How we keep children safe
Every case is different and complex – but the safety, well-being and best interests of the child or young person is the first and most important consideration.
We look to provide early support for families and opportunities for whānau to care safely for their children. We only consider seeking custody of a child in circumstances of serious harm and when no other option exists to keep the child safe. It's then that we look to place a child with a member of their wider family, whānau, hapū, iwi, or family group or someone in the family network who is able to meet their needs. This includes providing a safe, stable, and loving home until it is safe to reconnect the child with their family.
Decisions to seek custody are the most serious a social worker will ever make. They don't make these decisions alone but with professional supervision and using agreed tools and approaches.
Use the tabs below to understand our process.
How we respond to care or protection concerns
Family Group Conference (FGC)
A Family Group Conference is usually the first step and can be held at any point once a social worker has formed a belief that a child is in need of care or protection. This means that a social worker believes a child is being or is likely to be harmed.
FGCs have two parts:
Part 1 agreeing whether or not there are care or protection concerns
This provides an opportunity to openly share concerns with whānau and to gain a better understanding of a situation by hearing directly from whānau. Social workers and others share their worries for the child, why they think the child might be at risk of harm and what might be needed to keep the child safe. It also involves the whānau agreeing that there are concerns that need to be addressed.
Part 2 agreeing how those concerns can be addressed.
This involves the whānau and others working together to develop a plan to address the shared concerns and how the plan will be put in place and supported by Oranga Tamariki and others. Many FGCs will have plans that don’t require the oversight of the Family Court. In other cases the Family Court may also be involved.
Where FGCs are unable to agree to the concerns or a plan, social workers are required to consider how best to respond, this may include an application to the Court for:
A non custodial order (such as a support order or restraining order)
These are orders which mean that Oranga Tamariki has a role in overseeing the care of the child and monitoring their wellbeing. Or orders might be put in place to prevent harm, such as preventing unsafe adults having contact with a child.
A custodial agreement or order
This is when the Court agrees that Oranga Tamariki needs to have the legal custody (responsibility for the child’s day to day care). Having such an order in place does not automatically mean the child will always be removed from their parents care but it does give Oranga Tamariki the authority to do so.
When Oranga Tamariki is granted legal custody of a child
Oranga Tamariki can be granted legal custody of a child if:
- We are made aware of concerns about the safety of a child, and
- Social workers complete an assessment and form a belief that a child needs care or protection, and
- There is no other identified means of the child being kept safe and
- The parents and/or the Family Court agree the child should be in the custody of Oranga Tamariki.
Wherever it is safe and possible to do so, the child’s whānau and other people supporting the whānau will be involved in this decision.
There are three ways legal custody can be granted to Oranga Tamariki
Type of Custody Status
Provision of day-to-day care in custody
When Oranga Tamariki has been granted legal custody of a child there are a range of ways in which the day-to-day care of the child can be provided.
As per the legislation, it is preferable to keep children in whānau care wherever it is possible to do so safely.
Family Court plans and reviews
Unless these are made on an interim basis or there is a specific timeframe, most orders made by the Family Court:
- Require a report and plan
- Require regular review by the Family Court - every six months for a child under 7 years and every 12 months for an older child
- Require an application to be made for the order to be discharged unless it ends by expiry or by operation of law.
Moving to permanency
We never want a child to remain in Oranga Tamariki’s care as a permanent solution. So we work towards a permanency goal to ensure they have a safe, stable home. This decision needs to be made with others involved in the life of the child and needs to be agreed by the Family Court. This could mean:
- The child remains in the care of their parents while concerns are addressed
- The child returns to the care of their parents after concerns are addressed
- The child is permanently cared for by whānau / hapū / iwi or a member of their family’s wider network of friends
- The child is permanently cared for by someone who is not part of their whānau, hapū or iwi but is committed to their long term care
- An older young person is supported towards living independently.
As per the legislation and our policy and practice, the preference is for whānau care, including the parents wherever this is safe and possible.
More information and statistics
In response to a number of Official Information Requests and questions in the media we have created this document: