This procedure covers conducting an assessment at court for youth justice group conferencing.

 

When to use this procedure

When the court has requested an assessment of the young person’s suitability to participate in a group conference.

 

Practice context and legislation

  • Youth justice seeks to divert young people from more intensive supervisory orders where this is appropriate. The group conferencing program provides a legislated rehabilitation intervention to the children’s court at the pre-sentence stage.
  • Group conferencing deals with conflict affecting a small group of people. The conference is managed by a convenor who provides a structure for conversation between conference participants. It progresses through a series of stages from conflict or disagreement to cooperation and collective decision making.
  • The group conferencing program facilitates dialogue between a young person who has offended, their victim/s and others affected by the offence. The aim is to improve the young person’s understanding of the consequences of their actions, provide an opportunity for them to take responsibility for their offending and encourage reparation to the victim and/or community. The outcome plan developed by group conference participants sets out what will happen in the future.
  • The target group for group conferencing is young people aged 10 to 17 at the time of the offence, appearing before the criminal division of a children’s court who have:
    • pleaded guilty, or have been found guilty of offences that do not include homicide, manslaughter or sex offences
    • committed offences serious enough for the court to impose a sentence supervised by the youth justice service including probation, youth supervision order, youth attendance order, youth residential centre order or youth justice centre order
    • been referred for group conferencing within 12 months of the offence or, under exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the court
    • been assessed by the Department of Health & Human Services youth justice service
    • consented to participate.
  • A young person may be assessed at court for suitability for the program and youth justice will advise the court accordingly. The assessment stage is critical to ensure the integrity of the program and that use of this intervention is consistent legislation and program guidelines.
  • The assessment process aims to:
    • consider the appropriateness of the young person to participate in the program
    • provide the best possible advice to the court
    • ensure the young person understands the process that they are consenting to
    • provide accurate referral information to the respective group conference service provider where the young person is found suitable.
  • Section 414 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 allows the court to defer sentencing for a period not exceeding four months to undertake a group conference.
  • Section 415(1) of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 enables the criminal division of the children’s court to consider deferral of sentence for the purpose of a young person’s participation in a group conference if the court is considering imposing a sentence supervised by the youth justice service including probation, youth supervision order, youth attendance order, youth residential centre order or youth justice centre order.
  • Where the court is considering a sentence of detention, the young person may be remanded in custody for up to two months to complete the group conference
 

Roles and key tasks

Youth justice court advice service worker

  • Meet with young person together with their solicitor, obtain consent and conduct group conferencing suitability assessment.
  • Advise the court of the outcome of the assessment.
  • If the young person is suitable, advise the group conference convenor of a new referral, and allocate to a youth justice team leader.
  • Provide documentation to convenor and team leader.

Case manager

  • Attend the group conference with the young person.
  • Refer to the procedure for ‘Role of youth justice when a client is referred for group conferencing’.
  • Supervise Deferral of Sentence and prepare presentence report if ordered by the court.

Team leader / team manager

  • Allocate young person to a case manager.
  • Consult on, and endorse, appropriateness of the group conferencing suitability assessment and recommendation in the pre-sentence report.
  • Consult on case management issues as required.

Assistant Director / Manager Individual and Family Support

  • Provide oversight, direction and monitoring of the area youth justice program.
  • Provide case consultation regarding young people exhibiting high-risk behaviours.

Youth Justice Senior Practice Advisor

  • Provide case consultation regarding recommendation, particularly for young people exhibiting high-risk behaviours.
  • This should occur subject to local area agreements between Assistant Director / Manager Individual Family Support and the Senior Practice Advisor.
 

The procedure in detail

Pathways to a group conference recommendation

There are two pathways for a young person to be recommended for a group conference:

  • at court after submission for group conferencing from the magistrate, prosecutor or young person’s solicitor during court proceedings
  • in a youth justice pre-sentence report (see ‘Recommending a youth justice group conference in a pre-sentence report’).

Conducting a court-based suitability assessment

If the court is considering using a group conference, the magistrate must first request a group conferencing suitability assessment for the young person.

To undertake this, the youth justice worker meets with the young person together with their solicitor. The young person should sign the consent for release of information form and they should be given the CRIS privacy notice.

The assessment considers if:

  • the young person understands the program is voluntary
  • the young person is clear about the commitment required
  • the young person is clear about alternative sentencing options and has spoken to their legal representative before giving consent
  • the young person’s family and significant others are able to support them at the group conference
  • the young person’s living arrangements allow them to engage in the group conference process
  • there are any safety issues or special needs that may affect the young person’s ability to engage with the group conferencing process.

Complete pages one and two of the ‘Youth justice group conferencing suitability assessment report’, referring to the ‘Youth justice group conferencing assessment guide’ on page three of the same document.

Involvement with youth justice during the group conference process

If the young person is currently involved with youth justice, is remanded at the time of referral or likely to receive a youth justice order after the group conference, a youth justice worker is allocated to the young person.

In these circumstances, a youth justice worker must attend the group conference.

For further information about the role of the youth justice worker at a group conference see procedure for ‘Role of youth justice during the preparation, facilitation and following a youth justice group conference’.

Secondary consultation

A young person’s suitability for group conferencing may not be clear, for example:

  • if the young person’s living arrangements do not appear stable enough for them to commit to the group conferencing process
  • if they have significant health issues.

Consult a team leader to clarify the young person’s suitability.

Informing the court of the outcome

Provide verbal confirmation to the court about the outcome of the group conferencing suitability assessment.

If a young person is deemed unsuitable

If the court requests a group conferencing suitability assessment and the young person meets the legal requirements, it is likely the court will order a group conference.

If you assess the young person as not suitable, you must ensure there is evidence to support this decision, and the reasons can be clearly articulated to the court if required.

Young person is found suitable, but the court orders an alternative disposition

The court must consult with youth justice about a young person’s suitability for group conferencing (Children Youth and Families Act 2005, s. 414 ((1)(c)(i)), but it is not obliged to agree with the outcome of the assessment.

In these situations no further group conferencing action is required from the youth justice worker.

Court finds young person suitable for group conferencing

At court, collect and make copies of the following documents for the group conferencing convenor and for the youth justice file:

  • police charge sheets and summaries
  • group conferencing court order
  • ‘Youth justice group conferencing suitability assessment report’
  • ‘DHHS consent for release and exchange of information consent form’.

The person who conducted the assessment is responsible for referring the young person to the appropriate group conferencing organisation funded by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Within two working days of the young person being found suitable for group conferencing:

  • contact the group conferencing organisation/convenor by telephone to notify them of the new referral
  • make arrangements to forward all group conference documentation as outlined, including a copy of pre-sentence report (if applicable)
  • discuss the case and allocate to an appropriate team leader, who will then allocate the young person to a case manager.

A young person is, or is likely to be, subject to a supervised order following the group conference

If a young person is on a current supervised order with youth justice, is remanded or likely to receive an order supervised by youth justice after the group conference (this can be determined from comments made by the magistrate or based on the severity of the offending), youth justice must attend the conference.

See procedure for ‘Role of youth justice during the preparation, facilitation and following a youth justice group conference’.

Provide the group conferencing organisation with the name of the young person’s youth justice case manager if applicable.

Recording on CRIS

Within two working days of the young person being found suitable for a group conference, create the client on CRIS and keep the file open until the matter returns to court.

This process must occur even if youth justice is not involved with the group conferencing process.

If the young person already has a CRIS file, within two working days of them being found suitable, attach scanned group conference documents to the young person’s file, note the court return date and case-note any other relevant information.

Role of the convenor

The group conferencing convenor is responsible for:

  • preparing all participants for the group conference
  • facilitating the conference
  • providing a group conferencing report to court
  • supporting the young person to complete their group conference outcome plan if they receive a non-supervisory order when they return to court for sentencing.

A young person fails to attend or is found guilty of an offence during the deferral period

If the young person fails to attend the conference or they are found guilty of an offence in the deferral period, the convenor must prepare a group conference report for the court and notify the youth justice worker who conducted the assessment and facilitated the referral.

The court may relist the case at short notice, and on the adjourned hearing make any order which the court could have made if it had not deferred sentence.

Children Youth and Families Act 2005, s. 362(4), states the court ‘must not impose a sentence more severe than it would have imposed had sentencing not been deferred’.

Return to court for sentencing after a group conference

The convenor will prepare a group conference court report that includes the conference outcome plan.

The group conference convenor will attend court to support the young person and provide any other advice to the court.

In determining an appropriate sentence the court will consider:

  • the young person’s behaviour during the period of deferral
  • the youth justice pre-sentence report (where applicable)
  • the young person’s participation in the group conference
  • information in the group conference report.

Children Youth and Families Act 2005 s.362(3), states the court ‘must impose a sentence less severe than it would have imposed had the child not participated in a group conference’.

Noting sentencing outcome on CRIS

After court:

  • if the young person received a unsupervised order, close the case on CRIS
  • if the young person received an order to be supervised by youth justice, allocate to the relevant youth justice worker.

After the conference

Youth justice has no mandatory involvement with the young person if they receive an unsupervised order.