What is advocacy
Advocacy goes further than passive support of te tamaiti or rangatahi and involves listening, empowering te tamaiti or rangatahi by helping to represent their views, supporting them, and protecting their rights so that they can influence decisions that affect them.
Rights and responsibilities relating to te tamaiti or rangatahi and advocacy
Oranga Tamariki is committed to respecting and upholding the rights all tamariki and rangatahi to understand what is happening, participate in matters that affect them and have their voices heard. This includes:
- ensuring mana tamaiti is protected and supporting the rights of tamariki and rangatahi Māori as te Tiriti partners to exercise tino rangatiratanga and express their views (Article Two Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi))
- supporting the right of all tamariki and rangatahi to express their views and be heard (articles 12 and 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and section 11 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989)
- ensuring all tamariki and rangatahi can participate in decision-making (sections 4 and 11 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989)
- ensuring that disabled tamariki and rangatahi receive information in ways that they can understand and get the help they need to have their say (articles 7 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)
- ensuring that all tamariki and rangatahi:
- have information explained to them in a way that enables them to participate in decisions and processes about them
- are provided with information about independent advocacy services and Māori, iwi or kaupapa Māori services and how they can access them (Oranga Tamariki (National Care Standards and Related Matters) Regulations 2018).
Whakamana te tamaiti or rangatahi and whanaungatanga
Kaimahi and others involved in the lives of te tamaiti or rangatahi can whakamana te tamaiti or rangatahi and understand how to support them by:
- building understanding of who they are, their culture and where they sit in their whānau or family – for tamariki Māori, this would mean having an understanding of Te Ao Māori, tikanga and where te tamaiti or rangatahi sits within their whānau, hapū and iwi, particularly people, places and events of significance to them
- enabling them to understand their rights and ensure these are upheld
- respecting, upholding and advocating for their rights and the rights of their whānau or family
- supporting them to express their vision of oranga (wellbeing)
- supporting them to feel safe in expressing their identity, including gender identity and sexual orientation
- valuing their views, ideas and opinions and supporting them to express these – this may include building an understanding of cultural or traditional beliefs that may make it difficult for te tamaiti or rangatahi to express their views
- supporting them to ask questions or make requests and communicate their ideas
- supporting them to give feedback, including making complaints
- enabling them to access and understand information
- helping them to understand problems
- helping them to identify and articulate goals or wishes
- helping them to feel safe, comfortable and supported in different environments
- enabling them to participate in decisions that impact on them
- supporting them to become their own advocates.
Tamariki and rangatahi need parents, whānau or family, their kaimahi and other kaitiaki in their lives to support them and enable them to express their views and what they need. This is particularly true if tamariki or rangatahi are still learning how to put their views forward, or if they have a disability that impacts on how they understand information or communicate their views.
The history of Aotearoa New Zealand and other factors (such as the impact of colonisation, stigmatism towards disabled people, previous experience, and available skills) can make it difficult for some of the whānau or family we work with to feel that they are able to advocate for themselves or their tamaiti or rangatahi.
Deepening our understanding of parents and whānau or family by listening to, learning from and valuing their narrative can help us understand how to support them to participate and advocate for their rights and the rights of their tamaiti or rangatahi. Social workers can also support parents and whānau or family to advocate for their tamaiti or rangatahi by:
- engaging with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family in a way that supports and enables understanding and participation
- working with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family to understand the right of te tamaiti to have their views heard and participate in decision-making and how advocacy can support this
- modelling and demonstrating what advocacy looks like
- ensuring that te tamaiti or rangatahi has opportunities to express their views and perspectives in a safe and supportive environment
- working with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family to identify who can best support te tamaiti or rangatahi to understand and participate
- helping te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family to make links to hapū and iwi or other cultural supports that may offer advocacy services.
Independent advocacy for te tamaiti or rangatahi
It may be difficult for te tamaiti or rangatahi and their parents, whānau or family to accept kaimahi from a statutory agency in the role of advocate. There may be times when te tamaiti or rangatahi may want or benefit from an independent advocate to ensure their voice is heard.
We always support the use of independent advocacy. It may be particularly beneficial:
- if te tamaiti or rangatahi or their whānau or family indicates that they need further support of this type
- if a whānau or family member or another trusted adult is not available or able to advocate for te tamaiti
- if whānau or family have views about the place of the voice of te tamaiti that make it difficult for te tamaiti to be heard and to participate in decision-making
- if te tamaiti or rangatahi has a communication impairment or difficulties that mean they need support to understand what is being said and how it affects them, to express their views and to ensure that their views are understood
- during times of transition or any time te tamaiti may need support with decision-making and understanding during a time of change – for example, where they want to live, where to go to school, and whānau contact
- where the view of te tamaiti or rangatahi is different from, or at odds with, a stronger, more dominant view and may be lost – for example, the view of the social worker or a more articulate or confident individual.
Independent advocates for te tamaiti or rangatahi could be people like:
- friends of their whānau or family
- cultural providers (such as iwi, Māori or Pacific service providers)
- school counsellors
- teachers or teacher aides
- youth workers
- medical or mental health professionals
- people or leaders from their church
- legally appointed advocates (including lawyer for child and lay advocates)
- social service advocates (such as VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai or a Rainbow Youth advocate)
- advocates from the disability sector (such as Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service or IHC Advocacy).
The benefits of independent advocacy for tamariki and rangatahi and the value they place on the experience has been noted in research.
We can support and enable te tamaiti or rangatahi to access and use an advocate by:
- working with them and their whānau or family to understand their needs, especially where these may make it difficult for them to have their voice or views heard
- working with them and their whānau or family to identify when an independent advocate may be beneficial
- helping them to access independent support and advocacy, particularly where:
- te tamaiti or rangatahi indicates they want this type of support
- the beliefs or dynamics of the whānau or family make it difficult for te tamaiti or rangatahi to have a voice
- a trusted adult is not available
- specialised or additional support is required to meet the communication needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi
- respecting and supporting the advocate.
VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai
VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai (VOYCE) is a non-government organisation that offers independent advocacy and connection services for tamariki and rangatahi with care experience and/or disabilities. VOYCE's Tangata Whaikaha provides advocacy for disabled people with significant communication needs who are known to any part of Oranga Tamariki.
The advocacy service supports te tamaiti or rangatahi to have their voice heard and to participate in decision-making. In addition, they organise events and activities to support care-experienced tamariki or rangatahi with opportunities to connect with others with similar experiences.
Freephone: 0800 4VOYCE (0800 486 923)
VOYCE support for tamariki or rangatahi whaikaha (disabled tamariki or rangatahi) with communication impairments
VOYCE has skills and expertise advocating alongside disabled tamariki and rangatahi and has a Tangata Whaikaha service that focuses on tamariki and rangatahi with significant communication needs.
VOYCE’s Tangata Whaikaha response is available to tamariki and rangatahi who are involved with any part of Oranga Tamariki, including those who are not in care. This is unique to Tangata Whaikaha. The criteria for a Tangata Whaikaha response is that the disabled tamaiti or rangatahi has a significant communication need, and meets one of the following:
- has no speech or speech that is difficult to understand
- has difficulty understanding the communication of others
- may need tailored strategies to support their communication.
If te tamaiti or rangatahi is unable to give clear direction of their views or wishes then non-instructed advocacy is a technique used. This involves a rights-based approach where the kaiwhakamana gets to know te tamaiti or rangatahi to build a picture of their likes and dislikes and includes working with significant people in their life to provide advocacy support.
Protecting the narrative of te tamaiti or rangatahi
When te tamaiti or rangatahi has, or may have, experienced abuse or witnessed alleged offending, we have a responsibility to protect what te tamaiti or rangatahi tells us or others so that it might be used in the evidentiary process. This could include disclosures they may make to those supporting them. Some advocates will understand this and may have had training from their organisation about how they can protect the integrity of evidence and respond to disclosures of abuse. Others may need some support from us, particularly if they are supporting te tamaiti or rangatahi to take part in a specialist child interview or who may be required to give evidence in relation to alleged criminal offending.
We can support te tamaiti or rangatahi by:
- reminding advocates not to ask questions or initiate discussions about what has happened to ensure the processes are not compromised in any way
- asking advocates to make a record of any disclosure of abuse, especially where they are the first person told, and to notify the social worker if they have any concerns about the oranga (safety or wellbeing) of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Lawyers for children are specially qualified for the legal work they undertake. A lawyer for the child is appointed in cases where there are court proceedings or existing custody orders. Their essential duties are to:
- work with te tamaiti or rangatahi to understand their views and wishes
- represent te tamaiti or rangatahi in the court process
- explain the court process to te tamaiti or rangatahi in a way they can understand
- make sure the judge is told what te tamaiti or rangatahi thinks and is told about all the things relevant to the welfare and best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi
- explain the judge’s decision to te tamaiti or rangatahi and talk with them about how it will affect them.
In rare cases, a lawyer to assist will be appointed to speak about the best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi if there are significant discrepancies between the wishes of te tamaiti or rangatahi and their best interests.
If a rangatahi appears in the Youth Court, a youth advocate (lawyer) is appointed to provide legal advice and support to them.
Having a lawyer for child or a youth advocate does not preclude te tamaiti or rangatahi from having another advocate or support person (for example, extra support may be required if te tamaiti or rangatahi has communication impairments or difficulties that make it difficult for them to understand or express their views). The social worker can work with te tamaiti or rangatahi, their whānau or family and the legal advocate to identify additional support or advocacy that may be required to ensure that te tamaiti or rangatahi understands and can participate to the best of their abilities.
Advocacy support for te tamaiti during the family group conference process
The youth justice or care and protection coordinator will work te tamaiti or rangatahi, whānau or family and kaimahi to identify who should attend the family group conference. Kaiwhakamana from VOYCE or other advocates can attend the family group conference to support te tamaiti or rangatahi (section 22(1)(i) and section 251(1)(o) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989) if this is in accordance with the wishes of te tamaiti or rangatahi and the whānau or family. This includes supporting te tamaiti or rangatahi during the whānau or family-only time portion of the family group conference if te tamaiti or rangatahi requests them to be present and the whānau or family agree.
If there is a decision that an advocate is excluded from part of the process, kaimahi and the coordinator work with te tamaiti or rangatahi, whānau or family and the advocate to understand why the decision has been made and how best to support te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Advocates can help te tamaiti or rangatahi before, during and after the family group conference (and at other times) to:
- get access to information
- understand information
- prepare for the family group conference and other meetings or discussions
- present their information, views and feedback in relation to plans and decisions
- understand and participate in decision-making affecting them
- feel comfortable and safe when expressing their views
- feel listened to and have a sense of control of their circumstances
- provide opportunities to realise their mana.
If te tamaiti or rangatahi, or their whānau or family, would like an advocate to attend the family group conference, the coordinator invites the person and talks to them about what their role will look like.