All of New Zealand is at Alert Level 1. Please read the guidance.

COVID-19: implications for our practice

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Printed: 01/12/2020
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Last updated: 08/10/2020

Alert Level 1: Maintaining COVID-19 safe and aware practice

All of New Zealand is at Alert Level 1.

Our approach during Alert Level 1

Under Alert Level 1, the restrictions that have impacted our engagement and practice with tamariki, whānau and communities under previous alert levels are removed. As we return to approaches in practice that are familiar, we need to remain mindful of and prepared to respond to COVID-19 when identified in our practice. We also need to remain sensitive to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the social, economic, cultural, physical and mental wellbeing and support needs of tamariki, whānau, caregivers and victims.

Under Alert Level 1, we continue to balance our 3 primary responsibilities of:

  • preventing the transmission of COVID-19
  • keeping tamariki, their whānau and caregivers safe
  • ensuring the safety of our staff.

In our practice we also need to:

  • keep engagement safe by following our health and hygiene must-do’s
  • recognise and respond to the long-term impacts of COVID-19 alongside our partners
  • know how to respond effectively and quickly where COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed (including engaging with, caring for and transporting tamariki safely).

The following resources will help guide our practice under Alert Level 1 and should be applied alongside our usual practice guidance and any other COVID-19-specific guidance.

Resource Applying it in our practice
Working in a pandemic environment at Alert Level 1 (staff resource) (PDF 369KB) The key information we need as an Oranga Tamariki practitioner to keep us safe, healthy and well in the work we do with tamariki, whānau and caregivers during Alert Level 1.
Maintaining mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga practice during COVID-19 (PDF 100 KB) Guidance for how we maintain a focus on mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga in our engagement with tamariki and whānau Māori, work in partnership with iwi Māori to promote resilience and mitigate the ongoing impacts during Alert Level 1.
Engaging Pacific families during COVID-19 (PDF 209 KB) Guidance on how we understand the cultural and community impacts on Pacific children and families, resilience strategies from within these communities and our approach to engagement during Alert Level 1.


Keep engagement safe by applying our health and hygiene must-do’s

As long as all participants are well, all usual person-to-person engagement (including home visits, office visits, family group conferences, hui and whānau contact arrangements) can be undertaken without restriction. Unless there is a critical safety or wellbeing need requiring us to engage in person, alternative or remote forms of engagement may continue to be appropriate where:

  • visits are deferred because individuals are unwell, are experiencing symptoms of cold or flu, are required to self-isolate or are being quarantined
  • tamariki, whānau or caregivers have expressed a specific preference, particularly if this relates to a health or wellbeing concern
  • it is likely to promote more effective engagement and participation as an alternative to or in combination with person-to-person engagement.

In the context of our work, we also need to consider that:

  • many of the tamariki and whānau who we work with may have or be closely connected to people who are at increased health vulnerability
  • we are entering homes where we might have limited information about living arrangements, household composition and health issues
  • tamariki safety considerations may mean we need to continue to visit in circumstances where COVID-19 symptoms or risk factors are evident.

If we suspect COVID-19

Even when there are low infection rates of COVID-19 in our communities, we need to be prepared to act quickly and effectively if we identify situations in our practice where COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed (including engaging with, caring for and transporting tamariki safely).

Recognise and respond to the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on tamariki, whānau and caregivers

The social, economic, cultural and wider wellbeing impacts of the restrictions of previous alert levels will continue to be experienced during Alert Level 1. We may see increased concerns about the safety and wellbeing of tamariki as a result. Tamariki, whānau and caregivers may continue to have ongoing concerns and anxieties about COVID-19, their own wellbeing and the future. We have an ongoing role, alongside our partners, to support and promote resilience and recovery.

In our practice, be aware of:

  • loss of or reduced income, which may be a new experience for some
  • pressure on relationships and increased family harm
  • changes in the behaviours of tamariki and rangatahi
  • increased prevalence of people feeling fearful or uncertain about the future and at greater risk of suicide or self-harm
  • ongoing anxiety and protectiveness of the health of household or whānau members, particularly the elderly or those otherwise medically fragile
  • experiences of grief, loss and isolation during previous alert levels
  • any ongoing need for information, support and advocacy in decisions such as health care and school
  • continuing restrictions on our borders and what this may mean for tamariki and rangatahi coming into or leaving New Zealand (or seeking to do so), particularly those in our care or the care of international jurisdictions.

These considerations will have a specific impact in the following areas of our practice.

Practice area Impact of Alert Level 1
Responding to COVID-19-specific reports of concern (PDF 126 KB) There may be increased reports of concern about tamariki safety or wellbeing and we need to take into account the long-term impacts of COVID-19 in our decision-making about whether a report of concern or assessment is required. We may still be contacted about COVID-19-specific tamariki wellbeing concerns. These might include school participation, parental or rangatahi non-compliance with alert level requirements or public health related matters. We may also see an increase in reports of concern for abuse and neglect that may not have been visible under previous alert levels.
Supporting mental wellbeing during COVID-19 (PDF 113 KB) There may still be an ongoing heightened risk of suicidal ideation and actions during this time as a response to social isolation, increased anxiety or economic hardship. Continue to be responsive, monitor risk where suicidal ideation is a known need and promote mental wellbeing and resilience strategies.
Education support and guidance All tamariki should be back at school unless unwell or self-isolating. All About Me plans should consider ongoing needs as a result of education disruption. If there are ongoing concerns about re-engagement with learning, we must work with schools and the Ministry of Education to address these. Some planning with caregivers may still be required about appropriate care arrangements if tamariki need to remain home when they are unwell or self-isolating or their school is closed due to COVID-19.
Supporting caregivers We need to continue to be mindful that caregivers may need ongoing support during this time. Financial support and respite arrangements should be reviewed and may need to continue to support placement stability. COVID-19 caregiver support needs can still be identified and addressed but are recorded in the usual Caregiver Support plans.
Engaging with tamariki in care Be prepared to remain flexible about the needs and engagement approaches that individual tamariki might need right now. If not done so already, consider reviewing the frequency of visiting section of the All About Me plan and how in-person visits could be supplemented by maintaining other forms of engagement.
Unauthorised absences or missing tamariki and rangatahi There may continue to be an increase of unauthorised absences or missing tamariki or rangatahi as they continue to experience more social freedom. Caregivers may still be anxious about tamariki or rangatahi returning after a period where their whereabouts have not been known. This can be mitigated by providing caregivers with information about where tamariki or rangatahi might have been and providing balanced information about the current level of health risks in our communities.
International casework We have seen significantly more individuals returning to New Zealand during this time, including tamariki returning or seeking to return to New Zealand who have existing or emerging child protection issues or who are unaccompanied. We should expect this to continue. Border restrictions in place in New Zealand and other countries bring added complexity to any decisions regarding the care or travel of tamariki across borders (whether seeking to enter or leave New Zealand for any reason). Consultation with your manager and the International Casework Team is essential at the earliest opportunity when international travel is being considered and before decisions are made.
Supporting rangatahi who are transitioning to independence Rangatahi may be still experiencing the residual impacts of isolation and instability as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. There may still be an increased risk of suicide and self-harm, and care arrangements may still need support to stabilise. Consider if there is any additional advice and assistance for rangatahi or support for caregivers needed to maintain return or remain in care arrangements during this time or because of increased COVID-19 pressures.
Residence and group homes Residences and group homes generally return to usual operational processes but social workers need to continue to work closely with residences and group home teams in order to understand how tamariki and rangatahi are safely brought into residences and arrangements in place for visiting, whānau contact and managing unauthorised absences and absconding.
Youth justice The process for arrests, remand in custody, court appearances and family group conferences returns to normal. Continue to work with Police and court stakeholders around local processes. Inter-regional court appearances may still be made by audio-visual link (AVL). Use the ROIT tool to inform remand decisions and placements.


Tools and resources

Tool or resource When to use it
COVID-19 screening checklist (PDF 129KB) Before every person-to-person engagement, by phone if possible or in person.
Resources for caregivers and whānau and caregivers about Oranga Tamariki COVID-19 safety measures (staff resource) We need to provide this by email or in person the first time we undertake person-to-person engagement with anyone.


Generally, we return to recording using our usual practice (this includes casenotes, All About Me plans and Caregiver Support plans). However, if we have made a decision specifically in response to a COVID-19 consideration we should enter a casenote including the words COVID-19 in the header.


The usual delegated case work approvals apply other than:

  • when there is a need to engage face to face with individuals where there is potential or confirmed COVID-19 – in these cases, managers need to approve the plan for engagement
  • international travel for tamariki – this must have the appropriate DCE approval.