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Family Conferencing

Family conferencing was introduced under the 2001 Act as a mechanism to divert children out of the criminal justice system. Two options are available. A Family Welfare Conference (FWC) is convened where there are substantive concerns about the welfare of a child involved in criminal proceedings. In these circumstances, the conference explores the appropriate care required for the child, including the need for an emergency care or supervision order, and the court may dismiss the charge against the child. The Family Conference is the second option available. The conference is convened by the Probation Service on the direction of the court and involves the young person, the victim, family members and significant others. Conditions of referral include that the child accepts responsibility for their offending and consents to the conference process. The process is based on restorative justice principles and provides an opportunity for each of the parties involved to engage in dialogue about what happened and how to resolve the harm caused. Following the conference, an action plan is drawn up with the child and family members. The action plan which must be approved by the court may include a written apology to the victim, monetary compensation, unpaid work, and/or other such activities deemed to reduce the risk of re-offending. A period of 6 months is provided for the child to complete the action plan before a review takes place in the court. Thereafter, if the child’s progress is deemed satisfactory, the court may dismiss the charge and a conviction is not recorded. If the child’s compliance with the terms of the action plan is unsatisfactory, the case may be returned to court where standard proceedings commence. Interventions underpinned by restorative justice principles remain on the periphery of the juvenile justice system with an average of 30 referrals per year for family conferencing to the Probation Service over the period 2011-2014 (Probation Service 2014).

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