OVC ArchiveOVC
This file is provided for reference purposes only. It was current when produced, but is no longer maintained and may now be outdated. Please select www.ovc.gov to access current information.

Similarities and Differences Between Family Group Conferencing and Victim-Offender Mediation

FGC is strengthened by its similarities with and differences from VOM. FGC seems to be a natural expansion of the dominant model of VOM currently used by most of the more than 300 programs in North America and an even larger number of programs in Europe. Like VOM, FGC provides victims an opportunity to express the full impact of the crime upon their lives, to receive answers to any lingering questions about the incident, and to participate in holding the offender accountable for his or her actions. Offenders can tell their story of why the crime occurred and how it has affected their lives. They are given an opportunity to make things right with the victim—to the degree possible—through some form of compensation. FGC primarily works with juvenile offenders who have committed property crimes, but it has also been used with violent juvenile offenders and adult offenders. This is consistent with the experience of VOM in North America over the past 20 years.

Unlike VOM, FGC uses public officials (police officers, probation officers, school officials) rather than trained volunteers as facilitators. Although their roles include mediation, they are more broadly defined, combining mediation with other methods of interaction and allowing for more directed facilitation. The FGC process also casts a much wider circle of participants than VOM. This approach has some potential advantages over current VOM practice:

  • FGC contributes to the empowerment and healing of the community as a whole because it involves more community members in the meeting called to discuss the offense, its effects, and how to remedy the harm. By involving a broader range of people affected by the crime, far more citizens become direct stakeholders in the criminal and juvenile justice processes.

  • A wider circle of people is recognized as being victimized by the offense, and FGC explores the effects on these people: the primary victim, people connected to the victim, the offender's family members, and others connected to the offender. The full impact of victimization is more likely to be addressed in FGC because both primary and secondary victims are invited to participate.

  • Citizen volunteers are more likely to offer followup support for both the victim and the offender because a wider range of participants is potentially involved in assisting with the reintegration of the offender into the community and the empowerment of the victim.

  • The important role of the family in a juvenile offender's life is acknowledged and emphasized. Family dynamics play a major role in juvenile delinquency, and far too few programs effectively address these issues. FGC offers a restorative justice intervention with great potential for strengthening accountability that can actively involve both the offender's family and the victim's family.
Family Group Conferencing:
Comparison of New Zealand and Australia (Wagga Wagga) Models
New Zealand
Family Group Conferencing
Australia (Wagga Wagga)
Family Group Conferencing
Convened by: New Zealand Children & Young Persons Services—Youth Justice Coordinator. Law enforcement officers, school personnel.
Participants: Youth Justice Coordinator, offender, offender's counsel, offender's family and support system, victim, victim's family and support system, social services, police. FGC Coordinator, offender, offender's family and support system, victim, victim's family and support system, investigating officer.
Purpose: Clarify facts of incident, express a plea ("Yes, I did it." or "No, I did not."), reveal effects of incident on all present, determine measures to make amends, make decisions relating to other penalties. Reveal effects of incident on all present, express emotional impact, determine measures to make amends.
Selection of community members: Youth Justice Coordinator and family of offender identify key people to be involved; victim identifies his or her support system. Coordinator identifies key people to be involved; victim identifies his or her support system.
Decisionmaking: Consensus. Consensus.
Victim role: Chooses participants for support, expresses feelings about the crime, describes impact on self, approves plan to make amends that is submitted by offender's family. Chooses participants for support, expresses feelings about the crime, describes impact on self, provides input to plan to make amends.
Time in operation: Legislatively mandated in 1989. Since 1991.
Targeted offenders: All juvenile offenders except murder and manslaughter offenders. Juvenile offenders with property offenses and assaults.
Size of group in conference: Typically 12-15; can be 40-50. Typically 12-15; can be 40-50.
Preparation of participants: Face-to-face visit with offender and family before meeting, phone contact to explain process to victim and other participants, personal visit to victim if needed. Phone contacts (as the norm) with all participants to explain the process. Occasional personal visits, if determined to be necessary.
Gatekeeper/access to program: Statutes that provide a family group conference as a right for victims of all juvenile offenses other than murder and manslaughter and require offender participation. Discretionary judgment of law enforcement or school officials.
Conceptual framework: Clearly based on restorative justice principles with explicit reference to the long experience of victim-offender reconciliation and mediation programs. Clearly grounded in the theory of reintegrative shaming by John Braithwaite, as well as Silvan Tomkins' affect theory. Not explicitly grounded in restorative jus- tice principles and not explicitly drawing upon the experience of victim-offender reconciliation and mediation programs.

Previous Contents Next

Family Group Conferencing: Implications for Crime Victims April 2000
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.