“Do I Really Have Rights to Participate?” Young People’s and Youth Justice Personnel’s Perceptions of Young People’s Rights to Participation in the Youth Justice Family Group Conference Setting Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand

Robson, Jasmin
Waring, Marilyn
Graham Davies, Sharyn
Hanna, Kirsten
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Between late 2016 and July 2017, the New Zealand government amended the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 to give effect to young people’s participation rights in youth justice (YJ) legal processes. Specifically, section 11(2)(a) now requires YJ personnel to ensure that young people are encouraged and given the opportunity to be heard in proceedings where the young person is deemed mature enough to do so. Section 11(2)(b) requires that young people be given reasonable opportunity to express their views on matters that affect them and, of equal importance, section 11(3) now imposes a legal obligation on YJ personnel to facilitate sub section 11(2) (a) and (b) of the Act.

This study investigates the perceptions young people and YJ personnel hold of young people’s rights to participate in the legal settings of the YJ family group conference (YJ FGC) since the legislative amendments of 2017. The theoretical and conceptual frameworks of childhood studies, more specifically the social construction of childhood and youth and the Spiral of Silence Theory were used to guide and inform this study. These theoretical and conceptual frameworks intersect to create diverse understandings of young people’s participation in the YJ FGC setting.

At the heart of this thesis is the recognition that young people have unique experiences of the YJ FGC, and young people and YJ personnel have individual perceptions of young people’s participation in this setting. Social constructionism epistemology and process evaluation inform this study. An interview guide and semi-structured interviews were used to collect data. I also used a documentary analysis to supplement interviews and provide background information on legislative, policy and practice changes of the amended Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 and young people’s participation over time.

My research has found that young people and YJ personnel share similar perceptions of young people’s participation in the YJ FGC setting. Young people and YJ personnel think it is important for young people to have participation rights and that all young people should be able to share their views in the YJ FGC setting. However, the research also found that young people can face profound personal, physical and structural/institutional challenges in participating. All participants talked about process issues, such as young people missing out on pre-conference preparation. All participants in this study also talked about young people’s participation as, at times, non-existent and silenced in the YJ FGC. Silence was a pervasive theme leading me to develop the Children and Young Person Silencing Cyclone model. Through this model, I argue that silence should be considered interrelated with children’s and young people’s participation in YJ FGC settings.

This thesis contributes to literature on young people’s and YJ personnel’s perceptions of young people’s participation rights with a particular focus on the YJ FGC setting. This thesis also highlights the need for more research on silencing and how the concepts of participation and silence can be understood together to fully facilitate young people’s access to and improve their experience of their participation in the YJ FGC setting.

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