Tamariki and rangatahi are entitled to their own individual advocacy. This should be encouraged and supported.
Whakamana te tamaiti or rangatahi through advocacy
Advocacy seeks to whakamanawa and to:
- empower tamariki, rangatahi and whānau or family to reach their full potential
- safeguard parents and whānau or family to ensure they are aware of their rights
- speak up for people who are discriminated against or who are unable to do so for themselves.
Working in an environment of trauma when mana has been trampled on, tapu violated, mauri ora diminished and whakapapa disconnected, we need to whakamanawa parents and whānau or family by championing their rights for independent advocacy.
Advocacy support can be formal such as the Kaiārahi Family Court navigators, Whānau Ora navigators or Community Law services, or informal, for example as part of the natural support system of the whānau or family. Parents and whānau or family can select whomever they wish to act as their advocate. It is important to note that family and whānau have a right to seek independent legal advice particularly in respect of legal or court matters. Be clear with the whānau or family about responsibility for costs for legal advice to avoid misunderstanding.
Other examples could be a:
- professional or someone already working with the parents or whānau or family
- whānau member, kaumātua or leader of their community
- friend, associate or member of a church or community
- specialist, such as a disability or health advocate.
Embedded in the heart of our practice are rights, values and professional obligations. Advocacy has an important function in social work as it supports inclusion and participation and promotes equity and the rights of tamariki, rangatahi and whānau or family. Advocacy in social work practice within Oranga Tamaki recognises the distinct and critical function that independent advocacy has in improving outcomes for tamariki, rangatahi, parents and whānau or family.
Encouraging parents and whānau or family to have their own independent advocacy is a demonstration of our commitment to mana-enhancing and rights-based practice and their right to fully participate in the decisions made about their own tamariki or rangatahi.
Why advocacy is important
A Parent and Family Advocacy evidence brief (2021) has shown there are promising outcomes when parents are supported by independent advocates – for example:
- there were reductions in entry to care, particularly when parent advocacy occurred early through a whānau hui or hui ā-whānau
- tamariki and rangatahi entering into care were more likely to be placed with whānau or family when advocates were involved
- there were more timely reunification rates for whānau or families
- parents felt less socially isolated and helpless when involved in planning and decision-making.
Access to independent advocacy supports the right of parents and whānau or family to have their experiences and aspirations understood. Advocates support us to work in a truly collaborative way with parents as partners in achieving oranga (wellbeing) for their tamariki or rangatahi.
Whai mātauranga – how advocates help us in our mahi
An independent advocate can help us develop a fuller understanding of the needs and strengths of parents and whānau or family and reduce potential barriers to their full participation in assessments, planning and decisions for their tamariki or rangatahi. Advocates can bring or strengthen the voice of whānau or family when it may be difficult for them to do so themselves. This helps redress the power imbalance and give more weight to whānau or family stories and narratives.
When advocates are needed
We work with advocates to support parents and whānau or family to:
- navigate the care and protection, youth justice, residential and care systems, and to help clarify for parents and whānau or family why we are involved with their tamariki, the concerns the social worker is expressing about their safety and the impact on oranga (wellbeing)
- participate in decision-making processes by mediating between parents, whānau or family
- understand what is happening and the impact of statutory decisions
- access relevant specialist services such as legal aid, mental health, parenting programmes and services to enable whānau or family to support their tamariki and rangatahi
- maintain mutual understanding and accountability
- ensure the narrative of the whānau or family is being reflected accurately by the social worker in their mahi.
Parents and whānau or family may require extra encouragement to understand not only their right to independent advocacy but also how valuable an independent advocate can be in strengthening the oranga (wellbeing) of their whānau or family.
An advocate helps us maintain transparency and can hold us accountable for our statutory decisions. We should always welcome challenges, especially if it helps strengthen the connection and belonging for tamariki and rangatahi to their parents and whānau or family.
Whai pūkenga – how we support parents and whānau or family to access independent advocacy
When we meet with parents and whānau or family, we use the concept of ‘Ko Wai Au’ and principled practice to share about ourselves and apply our individual skills to build trust. We use our professional practice skills and behaviours to explore any natural supports within their place in the rohe.
It might take some time for parents and whānau or family to find someone they trust, and we continue to encourage them or, if appropriate, offer suggestions. It is important to support parents and whānau or family to have control over this process.
To build a partnership, we talk about how we do our mahi and how Oranga Tamariki policies, guidance and legislation guide us and that we have external professional obligations as registered social workers or members of other professional bodies. Parents and whānau or family have a right to know who they can talk to about our involvement, independent from our mahi with them.
We need to recognise how the history of the parents and whānau or family might affect their ability to trust and fully engage with Oranga Tamariki. Parents and whānau or family who have experienced trauma (including childhood, intergenerational and historical trauma through colonisation, or past experience with Oranga Tamariki) may distrust Oranga Tamariki involvement with their tamariki or rangatahi. Recognise and consider the barriers that whānau or family may face in finding the right advocate.
Kaimahi should be aware of parents who are further marginalised due to disabilities, sexual orientation or gender identification, lack of education or ability to read or comprehend, English being a second language, or being a new migrant to the country. We should also consider how any care-experienced parents may be experiencing our involvement with their tamariki or rangatahi, especially if the parents are young adults.
It’s important that we ensure that parents have access to advocacy support at the earliest opportunity. If there is a gap in the community, talk to your site manager about how they can link with Partnering for Outcomes to explore how to build community capability for independent advocacy. Remember that advocacy support can also be informal – for example, a part of the natural support system of the whānau or family. Spend time identifying local advocacy services in your region and the nature of the advocacy services they provide. In particular, find out about Māori, Pacific or ethnic-specific service providers so that whānau or family are aware of culturally aligned services in their area.
How we work with advocates
Sometimes, advocates selected by parents or whānau may have their own views about, or experience of, Oranga Tamariki or they may not understand how to navigate our system. Spend time establishing a working relationship to address any misconceptions or information that is getting in the way of partnership.
Negotiate and record agreed ways of working together. This helps us maintain consistency with the parents and their advocate even if social workers change. Working with the independent advocate doesn’t replace building a relationship with parents and whānau or family. Continue to check with the whānau or family whether their advocate accurately represents their voice and whether they have anything further to add.
If the parents and whānau or family trust the advocate they have chosen, then it is in the best interest for te tamaiti or rangatahi for us to find ways to build strong working relationships with the advocate. Developing partnerships requires hui and the application of quality time and space.
Sometimes advocates may contact Oranga Tamariki independently of a parent or whānau or family member. We ensure that we have written consent from the parent or whānau or family member to share accurate information that is relevant for the identified purpose with the advocate. Consult with your supervisor and site solicitor if you are unsure about what to share.
Advocates may be asked to attend family group conferences by a parent or whānau or family member. Because advocates are not entitled participants, it's the coordinator's role to consult with the whānau or family to confirm their agreement to the advocate's attendance at a family group conference.