The Family Group Conference: Culturally adaptable solution, or neocolonial imposition?

This guest blog post by Paora Moyle, a doctoral candidate at Massey University, introduces the background to her recent research into claims made about the Family Group Conference (FGC). Lauded by academics across the world as a culturally responsive solution to the needs of indigenous peoples, Paora’s research calls into questions the myths about FGCs in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad.


Overall, the modest literature on family group conferencing (FGC) in Aotearoa New Zealand uniformly concludes that, in matters related to child protection and youth justice, it is a ‘positive and empowering’ process. However, most of the existing research has failed to engage meaningfully with the principal users of FGCs – Māori whānau. Since its introduction over 25 years ago the FGC appears to have improved little for Māori: the fact that Māori remain unacceptably over-represented in the care and protection and youth justice systems appears not to support the promised empowerment and transformation.

More recent studies by the author suggest that Māori whānau’s experience of the FGC is far from being inclusive, empowering or culturally responsive. Rather the FGC is often perceived as an instrument of the state used to enforce what it deems to be a fitting response to state-defined problems of social control. It would appear that the New Zealand FGC has evolved from its original intention as an empowering, strength-based model into an efficient, enforcement-based machine (Moyle, 2013, 2015).

What we learn about the FGC here in Aotearoa New Zealand may provide important insights for other indigenous communities who have had the FGC ‘uploaded’ as a decision-making forum. Tauri (1999, 2010 & 2012) has provided a consistent critique of the FGC as a forum that has been successfully ‘uploaded’ to develop restorative justice systems across Canada, the United States and Australia. The FGC is being forced upon First Nations people at the expense of traditional interventions and systems successfully utilised by them for hundreds of years before colonisation (Tauri, 2012).

The promotion of the ‘culturally adaptable’ FGC by non-indigenous commentators has successfully marketed the forum as a ‘one size fits all’ transformative justice garment (subject to a few tucks and alterations) that can be transposed and imposed upon any indigenous community. Tauri argues that this success has been heavily influenced (mythicised) by arguments and representations from non-indigenous advocates promoting the FGC as a culturally responsive and adaptable model that empowers indigenous communities. In other words because the FGC was sourced from one indigenous culture, Māori, it must be applicable to all.

It would therefore seem that an indigenous critique of the FGC is essential in order to understand the truth about the spectrum of Māori experience of FGC practice. To this end, Tauri and Moyle, (both Ngati Porou) believe firmly that Māori have to ‘Step Up’ and create capacity for our own truths to be told. So, we have co-authored an article entitled Indigenous Peoples and the Mystifications of the Restorative Justice Movement that has just (at the time of writing) been accepted for publication.

In the same vein of ‘Stepping Up’ Paora’s most recent video blog (below) challenges Māori leaders to prioritise conversations around addressing Māori abuse of Māori children.

References

Moyle, P. (2013). From Family Group Conferencing to Whānau Ora: Māori social workers talk about their experiences. Unpublished Master’s thesis. Palmerston North: Massey University.

Moyle, P. (2014). Māori social workers’ experiences of care and protection: A selection of findings. Te Komako, Social Work Review, 26(1), 55-64.

Tauri, J. (1998). Family group conferences: A case study of the indigenisation of New Zealand’s justice system, Current Issues in Criminal Justice 10(2), 168-182.

Tauri J. (2009). An indigenous commentary on the standardisation of restorative justice, Indigenous Policy Journal 20(3), online.

Tauri, J. (2012). Indigenous critique of authoritarian criminology. In K. Carrington, M. Ball, E, O’Brien & J. Tauri (Eds.) Crime, Justice and Social Democracy: International Perspectives (pp. 217-233). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tauri, J. (2014). An indigenous, critical commentary on the globalisation of restorative justice, British Journal of Community Justice 12(2), 35-55.

One thought on “The Family Group Conference: Culturally adaptable solution, or neocolonial imposition?

  1. Kia ora Paora and thank you for highlighting the gaps in the FGC particularly for Maori. Thanks also for introducing us to your whanaunga Juan Tauri and their important work. Congratulations on getting your article accepted for publication, really important to get good critical indigenous scholarship in the mix.

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