Creating Communication Accessibility in Youth Justice

‘Communication accessibilty’ is a central theme of our team’s work, and this week we were celebrating the amazing work that has been going on around NZ in the context of Family Group Conferences over the last few years to bring out communication friendly and restorative meetings.

Family Group Conferences are a critical part of NZ’s Youth Justice and Care and Protection processes, but are usually heavily talk-based meetings which can be very confusing for those attending, especially the young people who the meeting is about  – they need to have their say, know what everyone else means, and participate in working out their plan with the adults. Our team has been working on projects across the YJ sector to explore what might make the communication in FGCs work better for young people and their whānau.

On Tuesday, 85 people came together in Wellington at the forum we co-hosted with Oranga Tamariki and the team from the Diana Urwin Chair in Restorative Justice at Victoria University of Wellington Forum participants were from a wide range of backgrounds, from practitioners working with young people and their whānau through to those working in policy, advocacy and academic contexts and they came to be challenged and consider what they could do to improve things.

Participants listened to and discussed presentations from a wide range of individuals, including videos from young person and his mother, and from another mother of a young person our team had worked with. Others who presented included police, social workers, lay advocates, youth advocate, a judge, Family Group Conference Coordinators, staff from the Office of the Children’s Commission, and those from the Diana Urwin Chair and from our own team.

We were blown away by the actions the participants said they were going to put in to place in their contexts and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens next.

At the forum there was a poster on the wall that beautifully displayed Kelly Howard’s research findings on the use of communication assistants in NZ’s youth justice system. Kelly has been collecting interview data from stakeholders and has written a range of research reports and has put together an amazing website describing her findings. Check it out and share. The latest research report came out this week:

Kelly Howard, Clare McCann & Margaret Dudley (2020) What is communication assistance? Describing a new and emerging profession in the New Zealand youth justice system, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, DOI: 10.1080/13218719.2020.1719378

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