Speaking up to stay safe
Rangimarie wanted her voice and her younger sisters’ voices to be heard by their whānau. Together, they want to feel loved and secure.
Speaking at their family group conference
Rangimarie (name changed for privacy) is 13 and wanted her voice and her younger sisters’ voices to be heard by their whānau. Together, they wanted to feel loved and secure, and for their parents to stop fighting.
The siblings wanted their Dad to know they were safe and happy living with their whānau caregivers in Whangarei, and for their Mum to know they hoped she could be rehabilitated so they could live together again.
It wasn’t until Rangimarie spoke to her whānau at a family group conference (FGC) that they knew this was the complete truth.
It was a courageous moment as she faced 13 of her family members, including her father and his supporters, and said what was best for her and her sisters, aged 11, 8 and 2 ½ months.
“We are safe, in an environment where we don’t have to worry about being hit and I don’t have to worry so much about my sisters because I know they are safe”
What's best for the children
“My sisters wrote some stuff on paper for me to read and I said what I had to say,” Rangimarie said.
“I let it all out and told them what was best for me and my sisters and how we want it to be … it felt really good, and I’m really proud of myself and my sisters.”
The Ministry became involved with this family because of reports of drug use by the parents, family violence, and neglect towards the children.
A social worker arranged for the children to live with approved family members in Whangarei. Keeping families together, when possible, is always our preference and takes priority.
Rangimarie told her family at the family group conference that she and her sisters want to continue to live with their whānau caregivers until their mother can prove she is safe and able to look after them.
Led by the young people
While her father holds the parenting orders, he has decided not to uplift the children from their whānau caregivers. Family group conference coordinator, Danny Thompson believes this decision would have been reversed if Rangimarie had not spoken.
The children's words have been used to help create a six-month plan, before a tribunal review to decide who will have parental custody.
“These are powerful statements so I left them in the plan for the judge to see this is not all about adults, but led by the young people,” Danny says.
“It is the first time in my 12 years as a coordinator that I have seen a young person have such an influence on their future during this process. It is never easy for a young person to have the floor like that and to be able to speak their own truth.”
Another conference was held specifically for the baby, and Rangimarie attended as a support person to ensure her sister’s needs were addressed.
Rangimarie has demonstrated that she has developed significant resilience and strength in spite of the adversities she and her sisters have endured, Danny says.
“It is never easy for a young person to have the floor like that and to be able to speak their own truth.”
Taking part in decisions
Between July and December last year there were more than 4000 young New Zealanders involved in family group conferences. The Ministry is placing more emphasis on young people and children taking part in decisions that affect them.
Frontline workers, like Danny, are working hard to ensure their views are better represented at family group conferences.
Rangimarie says she felt safe and confident to speak freely during the conference. She hopes other young people will read about her experience and feel assured to share their thoughts and feelings with their whānau during their own family group conferences.