Working together to provide a korowai for families and whanau in the family justice system

Written by Dr Claire Achmad from Barnardos and Keri Morris from FairWay -

This article appears in the September 2019 version of The Family Advocate.

Introduction

In May 2019 the Independent Panel examining the 2014 family justice reforms provided its report to the Minister of Justice, entitled Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau. The Panel included a focus in its report on the need for all parts of the family justice system to work together better for the benefit of families and whānau engaging with the system. The Independent Panel made 69 recommendations to the Minister, with the principal recommendation to introduce “…a joined-up family justice service, Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau, bringing together the siloed and fragmented elements of the current in and out of court family justice services.”

In this article we focus on two recommendations that will help form the korowai, sharing our views regarding how service providers (such as organisations like Barnardos and FairWay) can and are already working together with families and whānau in the family justice system to support positive outcomes. We highlight some good practice that is already happening and the scope to do more to collaborate better as professionals across the sector.


Child Participation/Voice of the Child

Regarding child participation, the Independent Panel recommended the Minister:

Direct the Ministry of Justice, in conjunction with relevant experts and key stakeholders, to undertake a stocktake of appropriate models for child participation, including at FDR, as a priority.

The Panel recommended the stocktake also consider key principles for children’s participation, including requiring professionals to promote children’s participation; how children’s views should be taken into account in cases where there is family violence; and the development of a best-practice toolkit co-designed with children and young people.

In Family Dispute Resolution mediations, there are a range of ways that children’s voices can be included in the process. Depending on the age of the children and tamariki, it may be important for them to feel they have a say in the discussions and decisions that are being made.  A key discussion point a mediator raises with parents or caregivers in their individual meetings is how they would like their children’s views incorporated into the mediation, considering the spectrum of options from children having no involvement through to children attending the mediation (which is rarely appropriate).

The Ministry of Justice has approved FairWay’s new Voice of the Child policy, which allows families to choose to have a Voice of Child Specialist (‘VOCS’) participate in the FDR mediation to share their children’s views. VOCS’s are highly trained and have extensive experience in representing children. The VOCS’ role is to share the child’s views and thoughts, rather than advocating for them or expressing their professional opinion on the child’s views or interests. It is a different role from a court appointed Lawyer for Child.

Through services such as those it delivers in the family violence prevention and postvention space, Barnardos sees up close the impact that effective child participation processes can have on supporting children and their families and whānau to experience positive, safe long-term outcomes. For example, Barnardos’ Footsteps to Feeling Safe child safety programme for children who have experienced family violence is grounded in creating a safe space for children to share their views and participate, and to feel safe and empowered through the process. Concurrently, Barnardos undertakes work with the children’s parents and whānau to ensure a holistic approach that is more likely to create positive outcomes for all involved – children, parents, family and whānau.


Parenting Through Separation

With regard to PTS, the Independent Panel recommended that the Minister:

Direct the Ministry of Justice to develop a centralised online PTS booking system;

Direct the Ministry of Justice to develop online version of PTS; and

Direct the Ministry of Justice to: strengthen contractual requirements (and provide appropriate support, including funding) for PTS providers to offer a range of facilitators from different cultures; and reconsider its procurement process and encourage kaupapa Maori and other cultural organisations to contract to deliver PTS.

In separate submissions to the Independent Panel, Barnardos and FairWay recommended the need for an online PTS option to be provided, alongside traditional PTS delivery, in order to ensure appropriate and effective options for families and whānau. Providing online PTS, delivered in small groups via a video conferencing platform requiring parents and caregivers to still interact and engage with the course facilitator, will fill a gap in the family justice system which currently exists for some families and whānau. 

Increasingly, people are wanting to access services online and over the phone. Rising fuel costs, being time poor, and the challenges of finding suitable childcare, the constraints and demands of shift work and working away from home, along with peoples’ comfort with technology makes the availability of an online PTS course a promising option for families and whānau in the family justice system.  Booking online – both for attendees and for referrers – would be a massive leap forward and support moving towards forming the korowai envisaged for families and whānau by the Independent Panel and organisations such as Barnardos and FairWay. It will likely make PTS more accessible for many and would be a practical way for referrer organisations to directly connect parents with a trusted PTS provider, rather than simply giving them another phone number to call at what is a high stress time.


Conclusion

We have an opportunity to make a noticeable difference in terms of delays and outcomes for children and their families and whānau by promoting the use of PTS and FDR and working in collaboration with other professionals, finding ways to further develop the korowai for families and whānau. The introduction of an online system for PTS is one important and practical way that will make a difference, and it should be a part of a continuum of services and support that wraps around families and whānau during one of their most stressful and vulnerable times. We also have a significant opportunity to ensure children’s participation sits at the heart of the korowai for families and whānau in the family justice system. Best practice around child participation already exists across areas of the system such as FDR and family violence response; it is essential that this practice informs and helps shape a stocktake, alongside ensuring any child participation practice is culturally appropriate. We hope to see the Minister of Justice take up these recommendations of the Independent Panel along with the Panel’s wider recommendations. In doing so, we encourage the Ministry of Justice to ensure and support the ongoing effectiveness of the best practice parts of the korowai already existing across the community provider sector, for the benefit of children, families and whānau engaged in the family justice system.

 

About Barnardos

Barnardos is New Zealand’s leading provider of children’s social services and offers a range of services across New Zealand, helping thousands of children every year. Their services work to meet the needs of children from birth through to adulthood and range from early help services to intensive services for some of the most vulnerable children and young people in Aotearoa. Their staff support whanau through issues such as abuse, neglect, family violence, educational difficulties, bullying, and more. Services include parenting advice and education, including the “Parenting Through Separation Programme” and “Footsteps to Feeling Safe”, and working with parents, caregivers and others where there are issues of family violence, alcohol and drug use, child health or disability, emotional abuse or neglect, risk or actual statutory involvement, parental mental health issues. Visit their website or call 0800 BARNARDOS (0800 227 627) for more information about their Child and Family Services.

About FairWay

FairWay is New Zealand’s leading dispute resolution and conflict management organisation.

FairWay is a nationwide provider of Family Dispute Resolution, with accredited mediators around New Zealand.

Many families are entitled to 12 hours of fully-funded Family Dispute Resolution services.

Please get in touch the Family Dispute Resolution team to find out more.

Phone: 0800 77 44 20
​Website: https://www.fairwayresolution.com/got-a-dispute/family-disputes