Family Conferences first commenced from 1 January 1994 when the Young Offenders Act came into operation. Youth justice coordinators employed by the Conferencing Unit are appointed under the Courts Administration Act to convene family conferences. The Conferencing Unit provides state-wide coverage from its base in Adelaide.

Family conferences occur when a youth (a young person of ten years or older but under the age of eighteen years) admits the commission of an "offence" within the meaning of the Young Offenders Act.   Referrals are made to the Conferencing Unit by the police and occasionally, by the Youth Court. Family conferences are able to be flexible where they are held and the times they are listed, to suit the parties.

Participants

At a family conference the young offender, their parents, guardians, family and friends, the victim of the offence and their supporters, and a police youth officer are brought together by the youth justice coordinator to discuss the offence and to decide how the offence will be dealt with.

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Procedure

A family conference is required to act if possible by consensus of all conference participants but there must at least be agreement regarding the conference outcome between the youth and the police youth officer.

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Confidentiality

It is unlawful to publicly identify any party who has participated in a family conference.

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Non-agreement, breach and non-attendance

If a family conference fails to reach a decision or if the youth or the police youth officer disagree with the proposed decision of the family conference, the matter will be referred to the Youth Court, and the court can exercise any power which could have been exercised by the conference.

If a youth does not turn up or does not carry out what was agreed at the conference, the police may lay a charge before the Youth Court for the original offence.

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Powers

Family conference outcomes are usually by way of the young person undertaking to do (or not do) something. The main exception to this is where the conference decides that the only outcome required is a formal caution (or warning) against the youth further offending.

The family conference may require the young person to do any or all of the following:

  • apologise to the victim of the offence;
  • pay compensation to the victim for loss or damage caused;
  • carry out up to 300 hours of community service;
  • anything else that may be appropriate in the circumstances of the case.

An undertaking from a family conference has a maximum duration of 12 months.

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Statutory guidelines and philosophy

Objects and policies of the Young Offenders Act

In exercising its powers, the family conference is bound by the object of the Young Offenders Act to secure for youths who offend against the criminal law the care, correction and guidance necessary for their development into useful members of the community and the proper realisation of their potential. The conference is also required to balance the issues of the youth being made aware of their legal obligations, with outcomes being sufficiently deterrent and the community being protected.

The Young Offenders Act requires a particular commitment to preserving and strengthening family relationships, not unnecessarily interrupting the youth's education and employment, and not impairing a youth's sense of racial, ethnic or cultural identity

The aims of a family conference are to:

  • divert young offenders from the court system
  • make young offenders aware of the consequences of their behaviour
  • make young offenders accept responsibility for their behaviour
  • provide victims with the opportunity to participate actively in the process of seeking reparation
  • arrange compensation, where appropriate, for material damage
  • involve the family and close friends of the young person in the process of dealing with the consequences of their behaviour
  • allow all participants to deal with the issues surrounding the offence at all levels including the legal and emotional issues
  • to set the scene for future restoration of trust between the young offender, people close to him or her, and others affected by the offence

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Family conferences and restorative justice

Family conferences are a significant change to the traditional criminal justice system and their theory is based in principles of restorative justice. The State is not the predominant party in proceedings, the community negotiates with the young offender regarding sanctions and the victim is a key participant in the process. Amongst the distinct benefits of the family conference are its ability to address some level of healing for all parties and to allow the youth to take responsibility for his or her actions.

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Victim notification to attend a family conference

The law requires that a victim of an offence must be notified of, and invited to, a family conference. It is the victim’s choice whether to attend. If the victim has concerns regarding safety or the time and place for the conference, these issues can be addressed by the youth justice coordinator.

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Forms, Fees and Rules

Related Links

Contact Us

For further information, contact the Youth Court Registry:
 
p: +61 8 8204 0331
f: +61 8 8204 0333
youthcourt@courts.sa.gov.au
 
Location:
75 Wright Street
Adelaide, South Australia, 5000
 
Postal Address:
75 Wright Street
Adelaide, South Australia, 5000

Contact Us

For further information, contact the Conferencing Unit:
 
Family Conference Enquires
p: +61 8 8204 0566
f: +61 8 8204 0513
familyconference@courts.sa.gov.au
 
Family Care Meeting Enquires
p: +61 8 8204 0594
f: +61 8 8204 0591
careandprotection@courts.sa.gov.au
 
Location:
75 Wright Street
Adelaide, South Australia, 50 00
 
Postal Address:
75 Wright Street
Adelaide, South Australia, 5000