Care and protection

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Child-centred perspective

The child-centred perspective is all about focusing on a child’s needs and best interests, their safety, care, support and wellbeing. It’s about understanding, at a deeper level, what influences a child’s behaviour – how they attach to caring adults in their lives and what impacts on their ability to grow and develop into strong adults.

Having a child-centred perspective requires that we become familiar with research that helps us to understand children and their needs so that we can work in their best interests. Being child-centred is also about supporting and maintaining their rights. Central to this is the work of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) and the underlying theme of children’s entitlement to special care, and the right to provision, protection and participation.

Supporting child-centred practice

Focusing on attachment and stability

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC)

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Care of Children Act 2004

Key messages from the research

  • Children and young people are entitled to ‘special care and assistance’ and have the right to provision, protection and participation (OCC, 2005)
  • The welfare and interests of the child/young person is paramount (Oranga Tamariki Act 1989)
  • Children and young people have a right to preserve their own identity, to enjoy their own culture, religion and language (MSD, 2002)
  • Children and young people have the capacity to participate in decisions that affect them and the right to be listened to (Littlechild, 2000; SOI, 2005)
  • Stability of care and attachment is critical to child wellbeing (Smith, 1996; Cassidy & Shaver, 1999 Bacon & Richardson, 2001).

Family-led and culturally responsive perspective

The family led and culturally responsive perspective reinforces the need to work with family cultures and to support them in their primary role of carers and protectors of their children. The driving principle of family empowerment rests at the heart of the framework and guides practice toward greater family-responsiveness. This strongly supports key practice principles within the Oranga Tamariki Act (1989).

The need to strengthen families is recognised and also the need to foster practice partnerships, including processes that involve the broader family in processes of decision making for their children. Being family-led and culturally responsive also requires that we are familiar with the research relating to family engagement and the ways in which families can be supported to care for their children. Supporting the cultural context of the family and working with social networks is also central to this strand of the practice framework.

Supporting family-led and culturally responsive practice

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Care of Children Act 2014


Key messages from the research

  • Collective responsibility for children and young people, and the centrality of family (MSD, 2002)
  • Family should be strengthened and should participate in decision-making, and be responded to as practice partners (Puao-te-Ata-tu, 1986; Oranga Tamariki Act 1989
  • Families develop rich and diverse plans to support the child when given the opportunity (Thoennes, 2003)
  • All families, children and young people will be safe and have opportunity to flourish in their communities (Te Pounamu, 2001)
  • Families do respond positively when invited to take the lead (Burford, 2005; Titcomb & LeCroy, 2003)
  • Building alliances with communities will strengthen good outcomes (Pacific Responsiveness Plan, 2002)
  • Diverse families require culturally responsive solutions and reflexive social work practices (Puao-te-Ata-tu, 1986; Connolly, Crichton-Hill & Ward, 2005)

Strengths and evidence-based perspective

At the same time as emphasising centrality of the child and being responsive to their unique family and cultural environment there is a need for practice to have a strong knowledge base and to be informed by evidence. It highlights the importance of working in a strengths based approach and maximising the opportunity to learn from research.

Building practice on a solid foundation of research evidence about what works in child welfare is key to getting good outcomes for children and young people. We work on the basis that no one perspective is enough when working with children, young people and their families. It is the weaving together of the perspectives through the phases of our work that makes our practice strong.

Supporting strengths and evidence-based practice

  • What works' models
  • Resilience discourses
  • Empowerment practices
  • Systems theory.

Key messages from the research

  • People do ‘rebound’ from serious trouble and adversity; people grow and develop through dialogue and collaboration (Saleebey, 1992)
  • “Safety is strengths demonstrated as protection over time” (McPherson & Macnamara, cited in Turnell, 2004)
  • Participation in decision-making is a practice demonstration of empowerment (Connolly, 1999)
  • Practice works in the context of role clarity, the reinforcement of pro-social values, collaborative problem-solving, and good relationship work and the helping alliance (Trotter, 1999; 2002; McKeown, 2000)
  • Family violence and its dynamics impact on children and their development, and therefore the connections with child care and protection need to be understood (Jasinski & Williams; 1998)
  • Coordinated systemic responses are needed to address multiple need (Walton, 2001) and coordinated service responses provide more effective interventions (Bell, 1999; McIntosh, 2000)
  • Good outcomes are achieved through positive parenting, stable family life, strong family and kin networks, community involvement and supportive social networks (Connolly, 2004).



Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) (2008). Code of Ethics. Dunedin: ANZASW (Inc).

Bacon, H., & Richardson, S. (2001). Attachment theory and child abuse: An overview of the literature for practitioners. Child Abuse Review, 10 (6) 377-397.

Bell , L. (1999). A comparison of multi-disciplinary groups in the UK and New Jersey. Child Abuse Review, 8 (5) 314-324.

Burford, G. (2005). Families: Their role as architects of civil society and social inclusionPractice: Social Work in Action, 17, (2) 79-88.

Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P.R. (eds). (1999). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications. London: Guilford.

Child, Youth and Family. (2001). Te Pounamu: manaaki tamariki, manaaki whānau (PDF 2.3 MB). Wellington: Child, Youth and Family.

Connolly, M. (1999). Effective participatory practice: Family group conferencing in child protection. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Connolly, M. (2004). Child and Family Welfare: Statutory Responses to Children at Risk. Christchurch: Te Awatea Press.

Connolly, M., Crichton-Hill, Y. & Ward, T. (2005). Culture and Child Protection: Reflexive Responses. London: Jessica Kingsley Press.

Jasinski, J.L. & Williams, L.M. (1998). Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Littlechild, B. (2000). Children’s rights to be heard in child protection processes – Law, policy and practice in England and Wales. Child Abuse Review, 9 (6) 403-415.

McIntosh, J. (2000). Where Service Paths Cross: Potential for Innovative Practice. Barton, CCT: Office of the State of Women for Partnerships Against Domestic Violence.

Ronnau, J.P. (2001). Values and ethics for family-centered practice. In E. Walton, P. Sandau-Beckler, & M. Mannes (eds.) Balancing Family-Centered Services and Child Well-being: Exploring Issues in Policy, Practice Theory, and Research. (pp.34-54) New York: Columbia University Press.

Saleebey, D. (1992). The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice. New York: Longman.

Smith, A.B. (1996) Opening remarks. In N.J. Taylor & A..B. Smith (Eds.), Investing in Children: Primary Prevention Strategies (pp. 5-10). Proceedings for the Children’s Issues Centre Inaugural Child and Family Policy Conference, 10-13 July 1996. Dunedin: Children’s Issues Centre.

Thoennes, N. (2003). Family group decision making in Colorado. Protecting Children, 18, (1&2) pp. 74-80.

Titcomb, A. & LeCroy, C. (2003). Evaluation of Arizona’s family groups decision making program. Protecting Children, 18, (1&2) pp. 58-64.

Trotter, C. (1999). Working with Involuntary Clients: A Guide to Practice. London: Sage.

Trotter, C. (2002). Worker skill and client outcome in child protection. Child Abuse Review, 11 (1) 38-50.

Turnell, A. & Edwards, S. (1999) Signs of Safety: A Solution and Safety-Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework. New York: Norton.

Walton, E. (2001). A conceptual framework for family-centered services. In E. Walton, P. Sandau-Beckler, & M. Mannes (Eds.) Balancing Family-Centered Services and Child Well-being: Exploring Issues in Policy, Practice Theory, and Research. (pp.34-54) New York: Columbia University Press.