Support for disabled tamariki and their family/whānau
We support disabled tamariki to ensure they have equal rights and protections in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRDP).
We ensure Disability Support Services eligible disabled tamariki and their family/whānau, including those who may require a specialised out-of-home placement, are fully supported by all practitioners as they go through Oranga Tamariki processes.
Improving outcomes for disabled tamariki
The best place for tamariki is within the safe loving care of their family, whānau, hapū, iwi or family group but this isn’t always possible for reasons of safety or the level of specialist care required to support tamariki.
Disabled tamariki are at a greater risk of needing care or protection than their peers. This may be because their family/whānau are unable to meet the care needs of te tamaiti at home, or because of harm, abuse, neglect or other protection concerns. Whatever the reason, if te tamaiti requires specialised out-of-home care we need to work with the family/whānau, the NASC (Needs Assessment Service Coordination), the Regional Disability Advisor, education professionals, ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) and clinicians to ensure decisions are based on the needs of te tamaiti.
Disabled tamariki and their family/whānau often have a long history of working with different professionals and agencies to meet their needs. They often experience added stress and pressure as they work to get their needs met. We need to enhance the mana of the family/whānau and respect the lived experience of disabled tamariki and the family/whānau in our work.
Ensuring their voice is included
Disabled tamariki need our support to ensure their voice is included throughout all processes and decision-making. For example, tamariki may need help to find someone who they trust or has specialist communication skills to support them to express their views. Remember that disabled tamariki have many ways of communicating that we need to consider and this guidance provides suggested methods that can be used effectively. Some tamariki may not just need communication support to be included in our processes and decision-making – they may need other accommodations such as if te tamaiti is at the family group conference and needs a break or a separate room.
The All About Me plan is an important tool to support us to understand and respond to the needs of disabled tamariki. Including disabled tamariki in the developmentof their All About Me plan is another way we can work to ensure their voice is included throughout processes and decision-making.
Working in a multi-disciplinary team to support disabled tamariki
Working in a multidisciplinary team will help us adapt our practice to meet the disability support needs of te tamaiti and their family/whānau rather than treating them differently or separate from all other tamariki we work with.
When working in a multi-disciplinary team to support disabled tamariki, it’s important to also ensure that the cultural identity of te tamaiti and their family/whānau is not lost in the way we work. Understanding how disability is viewed in the context of the cultural worldview of te tamaiti is extremely important. Whānau Māori may not see disability as an individual issue but an issue for the whole whānau. Therefore, everyone in the multi-disciplinary team needs to recognise the importance of whānau as a source of strength, support, security and identity.
We should ask for a case consult with our Regional Disability Advisor and our supervisor if:
- Oranga Tamariki receives a report of concern and we are allocated to the case of a disabled tamaiti – this consult will help us and our site to develop a plan for how we will work with te tamaiti, their family/whānau and other professionals involved
- we become aware te tamaiti has a disability at any point through assessments (such as the gateway assessment) or an investigation.
We need to work together with other professionals to meet the needs of disabled tamariki, particularly disabled tamariki who have high and complex needs. Other professionals we may need to work with include:
- Child Development Services
- the school te tamaiti attends
- Ministry of Education
- service providers
- medical professionals
- non-government organisations in the disability sector
- the High and Complex Needs unit
- for whānau Māori, Pacific families or tamariki from other cultural backgrounds – iwi, Māori, Pacific or other cultural service providers.
When tamariki are eligible for Ministry of Health funded Disability Support Services we need to work in partnership with the NASC (Needs Assessment Service Coordination) across all stages of our work from intake to transition planning. This is important to maintain the connection between te tamaiti and the NASC, which will provide support throughout the life of te tamaiti.
Sometimes tamariki may present to us without a confirmed disability but information we gather through our assessment may indicate a possible disability or unmet disability needs. If we suspect that te tamaiti could be eligible for Disability Support Services, but this is not confirmed, we should contact our Regional Disability Advisor to support us to confirm eligibility. Tell the Regional Disability Advisor if it's urgent.
If the family/whānau are known to the NASC, they will have already completed needs assessments for te tamaiti, which will detail their disability support needs. If they don’t have a needs assessment or it is out of date, we can request one to be completed. If we're carrying out an assessment, we may need to support the family/whānau to complete a self-referral. The NASC assessment will contain important information that will supplement our care or protection assessment. We need to consider how the information will be used in our assessment and how we might gather it. Remember that the information sharing provisions within the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 provide a framework for best practice in sharing or requesting information alongside others working to develop plans to address tamariki safety.
Things to consider:
- Do the family/whānau want a joint assessment with Oranga Tamariki and the NASC?
- Do the family/whānau want us to use the disability needs information the NASC already has so they don’t have to repeat themselves? Or when they meet with us, would they like to talk about their disability needs themselves?
- Do the family/whānau want to talk to us about their story and disability needs without the NASC?
When a disabled tamaiti is in care, the multi-disciplinary team is essential when developing plans, including safety plans, All About Me plans and Individual Care Plans.
When working with others to create a family group conference plan, court plan or All About Me plan, we should talk with our Regional Disability Advisor and the multi-disciplinary team about how we can support the family/whānau to have contact with their tamaiti. This may include support to spend time at home when possible.
Supporting tamariki to remain home
Talk with te tamaiti and their family/whānau
As part of our assessment, we have an open discussion with family/whānau about:
- what caring for their tamaiti at home may look like
- what changes are needed to current supports, such as relationship management
- what supports they may need in place to make this work.
These conversations need to occur alongside the NASC (Needs Assessment Service Coordination), education and other professionals. Consider the use of hui ā-whānau or family meetings, and encourage tamariki and family/whānau to identify others in their support network who they may want to be part of these conversations. These conversations may need to occur over some time to allow family/whānau the space to explore what is possible. Respite might be a useful tool to allow family/whānau greater opportunity to think about what’s possible.
Investigate available supports
We should talk with our Regional Disability Advisor and Site Manager about the support Oranga Tamariki can provide to help te tamaiti to spend time or stay at home. This might include advocating for or connecting to support that’s already available through education, the Ministry of Social Development or the Ministry of Health. The Regional Disability Advisor can advise what supports may be available in the area.
Explore if a family group conference is appropriate
A section 18AAA family group conference may be good way for everyone to put a plan around te tamaiti and their family/whānau to support te tamaiti to stay home. It is appropriate to hold a section 18AAA family group conference if, after completing an assessment, we don’t have any care or protection concerns but think te tamaiti would benefit from a family group conference.
If we do have care or protection concerns, a care or protection family group conference should be held. The family group conference plan can still focus on addressing these concerns and supporting family/whānau so te tamaiti can stay home.
If specialist out-of-home care is needed
If it is agreed that a specialised out-of-home placement is needed for Disability Support Services eligible tamariki, we need to ensure the pathway used to support the placement is mana enhancing and in the best interests of te tamaiti and their family/whānau.
These decisions are family/whānau led with support from Oranga Tamariki and the multi-disciplinary team, including the NASC (Needs Assessment Service Coordination) and the clinical team. We need to explore with the family/whānau what options best suit their needs both in the short term and in the long term.
Consider less intrusive care arrangements before seeking any court order. Things to consider include:
- What are the implications of a care agreement?
- what are the implications of having a timebound care agreement?
- who will have day-to-day care and decision-making of te tamaiti?
- What does the Family Court involve?
- what are the long-term implications of the court making decisions about te tamaiti?
- how do we discharge orders?
- what is the impact on family/whānau decision-making?
- do the family/whānau need independent legal advice?
- What would a relationship with Oranga Tamariki look like?
- what is the role of the social worker?
- how do we ensure quality care is provided?
- what about access to transition support services?
The National Care Standards are an important tool to ensure that disabled tamariki have all their needs, including disability support needs, identified and meet. We make sure we include disabled tamariki in our processes and that when they are in care, we meet all of their needs. As disability needs can change over time, we need to record these changes so we can continue to meet their needs.
Supporting tamariki with a care agreement
Section 139 and section 140 care agreements can be agreed to at a section 18AAA family group conference (noting that section 139 can only be used where the intention is for te tamaiti to return home and can be agreed to without the need for a family group conference).
Section 140 or section 140(1)(d) care agreement
Te tamaiti could be placed in care under a section 140 or section 140(1)(d) care agreement, which enables out-of-home care for an extended period, with the long-term intention of te tamaiti returning home or moving towards supported independence if te tamaiti is aged 15 years or older.
Remember that disabled tamariki have many ways of communicating that we need to consider when seeking consent to a care agreement. This can include written, verbal, visual, sign language, Makaton (a communication programme for people with communication or learning difficulties), observations and input from those usually involved with te tamaiti, such as their parents, a teacher aide or support worker. A good starting point is looking at Shared Decision-Making CCS Disability Action.
Moving towards independence or returning home may seem an improbable goal for some tamaiti and their family/whānau. In many cases, stress and trauma result in family/whānau wanting to explore their options for out-of-home care for their tamaiti.
Compassionately acknowledge this, assuring te tamaiti and their family/whānau that the decision to return home will not be made lightly nor without them. It may be useful to reiterate that tamariki will remain in care until we are sure that everyone, including te tamaiti and their family/whānau, feels ready and supported to transition home. If needed, tamariki can move from a section 140 care agreement to a court order if it is the right way to meet the needs, safety and wellbeing of disabled tamariki.
We work with the multi-disciplinary team to make sure the right supports are in place to meet the needs and goals of te tamaiti. For example, this may mean setting smaller goals such as te tamaiti returning home for some of the school holidays.
When working towards independence for disabled tamariki, careful planning with the multi-disciplinary team will be needed to meet their individual needs and goals.
Section 139 temporary care agreement
Alternatively, if we agree with the family/whānau that short-term care is needed while longer-term planning is put in place to support the family/whānau, a section 139 temporary care agreement may be the best option.
Supporting tamariki with a court order
For some disabled tamariki, section 140 or section 140(1)(d) care agreements can’t be used because:
- they aren’t old enough to transition to independence, or
- their family/whānau can’t agree to consider te tamaiti returning home.
In this case, we seek advice from our site solicitor to find the best option for that tamaiti. One option will be a custody order under section 101. In this case, we need to hold a care or protection family group conference and consider the best grounds when making our referral.
If there are no protection concerns but care is needed, consider in consultation with the site solicitor section 14(1)(b) ‘unable’ to care for te tamaiti.
If we have protection concerns for te tamaiti, we need to include them in the reasons for needing a care or protection family group conference.
Unless we have assessed there are specific circumstances where it may be required, when seeking a court order, we do not need to include a provision for additional guardianship. Seek advice from an Oranga Tamariki solicitor if in doubt.
Consent of the family/whānau
If section 101 is used to meet the care needs of tamariki and we have no other protection concerns, it should be done with the consent of the family/whānau unless immediate safety issues exist. We need to ensure the court is clear about the reasons why we are seeking a custody order, so it is reflected in the court record. This will support us later to work towards returning home if we want to discharge orders once we are certain te tamaiti can have their care needs met at home.
If we do have protection concerns, we need to ensure that te tamaiti is safe and this may mean seeking custody without the consent of the family/whānau if we are unable to obtain it.
Finding the right care arrangement for disabled tamariki
We need to work with the NASC (Needs Assessment Service Coordination) to identify the most appropriate care arrangement to meet the needs of disabled tamariki. This is so we can be sure the care arrangement will meet both the care and disability needs of te tamaiti.
Consult with the Regional Disability Advisor for advice on the appropriate care arrangement and how to access the placement. This will require working with the High Needs team and Partnering for Outcomes.