Re-engaging families with their young people: a qualitative study of juvenile justice group conferencing in Victoria

Johns, D 2005, Re-engaging families with their young people: a qualitative study of juvenile justice group conferencing in Victoria, Masters by Research, International and Community Studies, RMIT University.


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Title Re-engaging families with their young people: a qualitative study of juvenile justice group conferencing in Victoria
Author(s) Johns, D
Year 2005
Abstract This is a qualitative study of a restorative justice group conferencing program for young offenders in the Melbourne metropolitan area, Victoria, conducted during the period 2000 to 2003. The program, funded by the Department of Human Services’ Juvenile Justice branch, was run by Anglicare Victoria until June 2003 after which it was transferred to another agency. During the period of the study approximately ninety cases were referred to the program, of which seven comprise the research sample.

The study is focused on the experience of conferencing from the perspective of young people (offenders), their families and supportive others. Of particular interest is the role of the offender’s family (and/or significant others), the nature of their support, and how this impinges on the conference and its outcomes. Although the supporters’ role is pivotal in the conferencing process, its significance has remained largely implicit in the research to date. The objective of the study is to explore this crucial element, using an interpretive approach. Seven conferences were observed, followed by in-depth interviews conducted with four of the young people and members of their family and support network. Observational and interview data were supplemented by material gathered from a focus group and interviews with key stakeholders including police, legal representatives, victim support workers and conference convenors.

The results of abductive analysis of the data show the conference to be a complex interactional process, in which young people’s supports play a vital role. In comparative analysis of two of the conferences observed, it emerges that effective support of the young person by caring others is critical to the ‘success’ of the conference. Effective support is marked by the combination of: a disapproving response to the offending; a pledge of ongoing support (physical, moral and emotional); and clear behavioural expectations and boundaries. Significantly, this support is not necessarily provided by family. Ineffective support, conversely, can impede agency in the decision-making process and limit the achievability of intended outcomes.

It emerges that participants’ exercise of power and agency in the conference has a significant bearing on its outcomes. The interactional dynamics shape the experience of the encounter for young people and their supports and, in particular, their level of participation in decision-making. The convenor’s role is shown to be crucial in establishing and maintaining conditions of mutual respect and listening; in balancing the interests and demands of conference participants, and mediating power inequity. Moreover, program constraints, such as convenor experience and training, have a bearing on the meeting and its consequences. Family members’ preparation through adequate briefing, for instance, and their subsequent empowerment in the process impinges on its success.

The findings reveal diversity in how the ‘success’ of a conference may be construed. While much attention is focused on rates of recidivism as measures of success, this study uncovers other meaningful indicators of a ‘successful’ conference. A young person’s demonstrated awareness of the harm they caused, for example; a sincere apology or reparative gesture; the forging of new, trusting relationships; a practical, realistic outcome plan; or a resultant non-conviction. It concludes, moreover, that outcomes deemed successful by the young people and their families are likely to contribute to the reintegrative process. If a conference fails to meet the needs of its participants, this is likely to have a disintegrative effect, potentially manifesting as further offending. In this study, observation is shown to be a rich source of empirical material. Triangulation of data collection methods and sources underscores the validity of the findings and reliability of their interpretation.
Degree Masters by Research
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre International and Community Studies
Keyword(s) Restorative justice
group conference
young offenders
pre-sentence conferencing
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Created: Tue, 29 Jan 2013, 10:23:12 EST by Brett Fenton
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