Upcoming changes for this guidance
This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to Māori-centred practice and a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice in supporting mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this guidance. The following resources provide support:
Practice for working effectively with Māori
Staff resource: Supporting Māori-centred practice
What is a mass allegation investigation (MAI)
A mass allegation investigation (MAI) is an investigation of suspected abuse of 3 or more tamariki (excluding sibling groups), where that abuse may constitute a criminal offence.
The tamariki may be linked through a variety of circumstances including:
- a family/whānau member
- a group or activity they participate in, for example, scouts or a sports group
- a facility they attend, for example, school or church
- their care arrangements.
The MAI process starts following consultation between Oranga Tamariki and the Police and it’s agreed that the report of concern or complaint received by Police or our national contact centre is a mass allegation.
We inform the regional office of the decision to proceed with an MAI.
If there’s an allegation made about abuse of 1 or 2 tamariki and the alleged offender has increased access to tamariki (for example, they're a teacher, pastor or sports coach) then this can be treated as an MAI.
How to do an MAI
When we are dealing with a potential mass allegation, we follow the working arrangements agreed between the New Zealand Police and Oranga Tamariki in the MAI joint operating procedures and the Child Protection Protocol (CPP) joint operating procedures.
1 Liaise with the Police
If we receive a report of concern that could expand into an MAI, we should liaise with the Police Child Protection team immediately using the Child Protection Protocol procedures. Then we start planning and working through the process together.
Email the Police Child Protection Team on email@example.com or the local Police contact email address.
2 Consider harm to tamariki
Serious harm can differ for each tamaiti or rangatahi depending on:
- the behaviour and actions causing concern
- the cumulative effects of repeated harm events
- the context they occur in
- the characteristics of individual tamariki or rangatahi
- the ability of the parents/caregivers and whānau to understand and provide support during the process if the alleged abuser is a family/whānau member or someone close to the family/whānau (e.g., teacher; sports coach; pastor). Consider the impact of that behaviour on the family/whānau system and their ability to manage the dynamics.
Consider the impact or potential impact on te tamaiti, not just the suspected or reported behaviour itself. Disclosing abuse can have significant impacts on the family/whānau, and tamariki can feel a strong sense of responsibility and guilt and may need considerable support to manage this.
Section 14 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 states that in order for intervention to be the appropriate action, serious harm does not have to have occurred — the likelihood of serious harm is enough to warrant intervention.
Concerns about the level of actual or potential serious harm to tamariki and rangatahi will be a determining factor for Oranga Tamariki and the Police in considering whether action should be taken.
3 Address care and protection issues
Oranga Tamariki takes the primary role, supported by the Police, in addressing the care and protection needs and safety of the tamariki involved. The Police are responsible for deciding if criminal activity has occurred and gathering evidence to support this view — we inform the regional office of future court dates when these become available.
We consider who the best person is to manage the process and make decisions about care and protection.
Assessing the wellbeing of te tamaiti
Oranga Tamariki and the Police must consider the wellbeing of the tamariki, including if they are at risk of harm resulting from their own actions or harmful behaviours, for example:
- using alcohol or drugs
- sexual experimentation
- posting images on social media.
Oranga Tamariki and the Police must consider if the parents:
- are aware of these behaviours
- acknowledge that they are of concern
- are able to support te tamaiti to make appropriate choices and access the appropriate supports as needed.
Managing the safety of tamariki
A safety plan may be required to prevent further harm to the tamariki involved and others at risk. Safety plans must be done with family/whānau, household members and others close to the tamariki who understand the risks involved and can work with the plan.
Managing the safety of the tamariki involved might mean stopping contact with the alleged offender for the duration of the investigation – this may include the offender's own tamariki or those living with them.
We use legal options to secure the safety of tamariki if consent is not given willingly. Before considering legal orders we should engage with parents/caregivers and family/whānau to seek safety solutions with them.
4 Create an MAI plan
The investigation team creates an MAI plan as soon as possible.
The plan should outline:
- the processes and tasks that need to be completed and who will do them
- the roles and responsibilities of the key people.
Processes and tasks might include:
- involving other organisations or people
- developing a communication plan
- informing the alleged offender (see step 5)
- meeting with any organisation, group or school with which the alleged offender is involved (see step 6)
- meeting with selected parents or caregivers of tamariki who are part of that organisation, group or school (see step 7)
- undertaking the screening process (see step 8).
5 Decide whether to inform the alleged offender
The investigation team decides whether to tell the alleged offender about the allegation.
They consider the:
- safety of victims
- needs of the investigation
- rights of the alleged offender.
6 Meet with the organisation, group or school with which the alleged offender is involved
The investigation team, which includes Oranga Tamariki and the Police, meets with a senior person at the organisation, group or school to:
- confirm that the person will contact other agreed people or organisations
- cover the need for the organisation, group or school to address any HR issues
- discuss the parent meeting and provide information on what should be said to parents.
It’s important to build a good relationship with the senior people of the organisation. We should be transparent with them and explain to them what’s expected of them – this will help them engage with the process and work with us.
The investigation team also gives advice to all staff or members of the organisation, group or school.
7 Meet with parents or caregivers of possible victims or witnesses
Organising these meetings is the joint responsibility of Oranga Tamariki and the Police.
The purpose of these meetings is to:
- inform the parents of the situation
- reassure them that the allegations are being investigated
- reassure them that tamariki will be supported
- explain the MAI process, including the screening interviews (see step 8).
8 Do screening interviews with possible victims or witnesses
The screening process:
- identifies the potential size or scope of the MAI
- enables appropriate support to be provided to suspected victims
- is one way to gather evidence for the criminal investigation.
We must have signed consent from parents or caregivers for each tamaiti or rangatahi to be screened.
The Police and Oranga Tamariki brief the screening teams about the process, particularly:
- the risk of evidence contamination
- boundaries around questions
- recording the interview
- being clear about the names and birth dates of tamariki being interviewed and recording the names of any other victims they mention.
After the interviews, the investigating team decides if any of the tamariki or rangatahi need to be referred for a specialist child interview or specialist child (witness) interview.
Consider if you need to seek help from outside the site and be very clear about everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
9 Provide ongoing support
If tamariki are required to be evidentially interviewed, the Police will lead this process.
If the Police decide not to prosecute that does not mean the abuse has not happened.
- Are the tamariki safe or is a safety plan required?
- What family/whānau and community supports can be drawn on?
- Are the parents/caregivers and family/whānau able to resolve the safety concerns or is further intervention required – for example, a referral to a family group conference?
If an evidential interview is not required, we are responsible for making sure that the parents or caregivers get referred to the appropriate support and intervention services, and for advising them about what happens next. This is also important to help them manage and support their tamariki now and in the future.
Find out if the organisation has the right child protection policies in place and, if not, provide support to develop them. The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 specifies what is required.
Children’s Action Plan and Vulnerable Children Act 2014 – Ministry of Justice website
At the end of the process ensure the relevant information has been shared and understood. Be supportive and encourage working together in the future – this may include making recommendations for them to consider.
Allegations may be made about abuse that happened a significant number of years ago.
In historic cases:
- Oranga Tamariki investigates under the Child Protection Protocol if the alleged victim is still younger than 18 years old or if other tamariki may have ongoing contact with the alleged offender
- the Police are primarily responsible for investigating allegations where the alleged victim is 18 years old and over and no tamariki are thought to be currently at risk.
If there are concerns that the alleged offender may still have access to tamariki or rangatahi and may still be offending, we:
- take action to mitigate risk to tamariki or rangatahi, including the alleged offender's own tamariki or tamariki and rangatahi who the alleged offender lives with
- consider doing a screening interview with those tamariki and rangatahi, or with adults who had contact with the alleged offender in the past.
If a screening interview in a historic case identifies a suspected victim who hasn't disclosed the abuse, we balance the needs of the investigation and the safety of other tamariki or rangatahi with the potential of causing further trauma to the suspected victim. If we contact the suspected victim, we:
- mitigate trauma to them and their parents or caregivers
- ensure appropriate support is available.