Ko te ahurei o te tamaiti arahia ō tātou mahi – let the uniqueness of the child guide our work.
When there has been or may be harm for te tamaiti or rangatahi, we listen, understand and respond to the unique experiences of their lives, to the spaces and places where their oranga (wellbeing) has been impacted. We support them and their whānau or family to realise their potential. We also listen to them to understand the things in their lives that can act to prevent harm from occurring or continuing to occur.
In matters affecting them, all tamariki and rangatahi have the right to participate, be heard and have their oranga (wellbeing) upheld (whakamana te tamaiti). These rights create obligations on us (including legal obligations) to ensure those rights are upheld.
In our efforts to make a positive difference in the lives of tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family, an essential activity we undertake is to connect, support, talk and listen to tamariki and rangatahi. It’s important that they can express themselves, and we understand their feelings, thoughts and opinions about what is happening in their lives.
Sections 5, 7AA and 11 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, and Articles 12 and 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, establish the right of te tamaiti or rangatahi to express their own views in all matters that affect their lives. In addition, Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, affirmed by section 5 of the Oranga Tamariki Act, establishes that disabled tamariki and rangatahi have the right to express their views on matters that affect them and for these views to be considered. They also have the right to get the help they need to have their say. We have both a professional and legal obligation to give effect to these rights.
We intentionally seek out the knowledge that helps us understand tamaiti, rangatahi and whānau or family experiences and aspirations of oranga (wellbeing). We co-construct our understanding with tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family and communities.
By framing our enquiry and understanding through oranga, we connect with the relationships between tamariki or rangatahi, their whānau or family and their spiritual, natural, physical and social environments. The pursuit of oranga, and how oranga is sustained, is different for everyone and every whānau or family. We listen to tamariki and rangatahi describe what oranga looks like for them and we talk with them about it. Bringing an oranga frame to our understanding of the harm that te tamaiti or rangatahi has or may experience does not discount that harm but allows us to explore more broadly the networks, resources and supports available to address it.
What tamariki and rangatahi tell us is important to them
The time we spend with tamariki and rangatahi can either be time limited and focused on a particular activity (for example, when carrying out an assessment or investigation or a section 132 report), or we can spend time with them regularly if we're the social worker for te tamaiti or rangatahi in care or custody. No matter how much time we spend with tamariki and rangatahi, how we use our time is what matters most. Tamariki and rangatahi ask us to:
- "Get to know me. Spend time with me and give me your attention."
- "Be honest with me and explain in a way I can understand."
- "Ask me about my thoughts and feelings. Don’t make assumptions."
- "Be someone who will stand up for me and be brave."
Tamariki and rangatahi feel listened to when they see action taken because of what they said.
Oranga Tamariki undertakes Te Tohu o te Ora, a national survey with a primary focus on hearing the voices and experiences of tamariki and rangatahi in care. The first report, Te Mātātaki 2021, was completed from engagement with approximately 1500 care-experienced tamariki and rangatahi across 2019/20. Key findings have influenced several tohu that show us what effective communication looks like from the perspective of tamariki and rangatahi.
Another way we can understand the views and wishes of tamariki and rangatahi is by listening to others. We support tamariki and rangatahi to access advocacy as required to build understanding and ensure their voice is accurately heard and reflected in their plan.
VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai has skills and expertise advocating alongside tamariki and rangatahi, and has a tāngata whaikaha workstream that focuses on tamariki and rangatahi with significant communication needs.
When talking with and listening to tamariki and rangatahi Māori, we listen for the protective factors that are embedded within Māori social structures (such as the use of te reo) and practices (kawa and tikanga). We enquire and hear the stories and experiences of tamariki and rangatahi within their whānau, hapū and iwi that tell us about how they are cared for, protected, safeguarded and supported to develop (whakamana te tamaiti).
Our approach to practice means we draw from Te Ao Māori knowledge, methods and principles as a starting point to our relationship with tamariki or rangatahi Māori and their whānau.
We use Te Toka Tūmoana takepū (principles) to support our practice with tamariki and rangatahi Māori and their whānau. (Te Toka Tūmoana is the tāngata whenua and bicultural principled wellbeing framework for working effectively with Māori.) These takepū support us to preference Māori worldviews and practices, and direct us towards engagement that is relational, inclusive and restorative.
We seek out support and have conversations with colleagues, with those in Māori specialist roles (Kairaranga ā-whānau, Kaiarataki, Kaiwhakaako, Kaiwhakaato), to gain deeper levels of understanding of how Te Toka Tūmoana takepū are applied in everyday ways by tāngata whenua. This supports us to incorporate them into our meaningful engagement with tamariki and rangatahi when we are talking with them.
Pacific peoples and communities
The conch shell is a pan-Pacific symbol that amplifies the voices of children. Historically, many Pacific nations would blow the conch to bring people together – kainga (family), communities and villages – to voice their concerns about any issues or to celebrate events of cultural importance.
The symbol of the conch aligns with the cultural use of the conch by Pacific peoples as a channel to voice the views of Pacific children and young people. To sound the conch is a call for us to embrace the views and ideas of our Pacific children and young people and to uphold Pacific cultural values, principles and identity.
For many Pacific children, having a voice may be alien and uncomfortable because of their role in the collective as 'the child' and the associated expectations of that role. It is important to understand how they see themselves in relation to others within their family context and whether and how their own voice can be expressed independent of adults.
We are guided by our cultural practice tool, Va'aifetū, which is a practical guide for integrating Pacific cultures into practice in pursuit of best outcomes for children of Pacific descent. We use the ethnic-specific approaches of the island nations represented in Va'aifetū throughout our practice with children, young people and families. The best interests of the Pacific child are met when we also seek out support from colleagues, Pacific advisors and others with the relevant knowledge to ensure we understand and practise relationally with the child and their family.
Understanding the culture of Pacific children and young people helps them to share their views. We need to gain knowledge about how the children, young people and families of each island nation express important principles of guardianship, the child's best interests, dignity, humility, spirituality, responsibility and relationships in their everyday lives and in creating wellbeing for their children, young people, families and communities.
We gain the consent of parents or guardians before talking with children (unless there are exceptional circumstances) – for Pacific children, it may be particularly important for them to know their parents have agreed to the social worker talking with them on their own. Pacific children need to feel safe to have a voice – this can happen where they feel there is a trusted relationship with someone who shows a genuine interest in them and getting to know them, shows kindness, and shows they are reliable and honest, for example.
It’s important to understand how Pacific children see themselves in relation to others – parents and extended family members – and what responsibilities they attach to those relationships. Do they feel comfortable having a voice amongst adults? These are the ways in which understanding the child's culture will support talking and listening to them.
Disabled tamariki and rangatahi
Tamariki and rangatahi we work with may have a disability and we may need extra support to ensure our communication is effective. Disabled tamariki and rangatahi can communicate when those who know them well understand how they communicate. The type and level of support they require for communication to be effective will depend on the individual strengths and communication needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Many of the factors relating to feeling listened to, sharing views and participating in decision-making are common to everyone and interdependent. The social worker’s role is to engage with and support disabled tamariki and rangatahi to communicate effectively. General practice considerations include the following:
- Honesty, trust and relationships are crucial in supporting disabled tamariki and rangatahi to understand and participate in decisions.
- If kaimahi want to know what disabled tamariki and rangatahi think, they need to ask them.
- Physical cues and behaviour are an important part of how disabled tamariki and rangatahi share their views – we can learn a lot about what te tamaiti or rangatahi wants to communicate by watching and connecting with them.
- Disabled tamariki and rangatahi often need physical cues from the person they are communicating with to make them feel like they are being listened to – for example, we can do this by affirming what we are hearing or seeing, giving undivided attention and acting on what we say we will do.
- Communication happens best when te tamaiti or rangatahi is calm and has time to process information with the support of someone they trust.
- Disabled tamariki and rangatahi feel listened to when they see action taken because of what they said.
Tailoring your communication
Tamariki and rangatahi with significant communication impairments often require specific support strategies. Standard ways of working could do more harm than good – for example, failing to ensure te tamaiti or rangatahi is well supported at a meeting may elicit a behavioural response from te tamaiti or rangatahi and create or add to a stigmatising narrative that te tamaiti or rangatahi is 'difficult' or has complex needs.
In working to understand how they communicate and the supports they need to participate and communicate effectively, we:
- talk with an adult (family member, caregiver, friend or support person) who te tamaiti or rangatahi trusts and knows well, and seek their advice
- do some research – for example, the FASD guidance has a section on communication strategies
- have a communication plan, particularly when supporting tamariki or rangatahi at meetings and family group conferences – for example, the plan outlines who will do what, when and how, and any additional support requirements, such as access to a break-out room
- talk with our Regional Disability Advisor and seek their advice.
All tamariki, rangatahi and whānau or family experience intentional, relational and skilful practice.
We talk with and listen to tamariki and rangatahi to create a relationship, to then build understanding with them and their whānau or family. The primary purpose is to get in touch with what tamariki and rangatahi are thinking and feeling about themselves, and their life over time. Being honest (with care) and building trust in the relationship are crucial in supporting tamariki and rangatahi to understand and participate in decisions relating to their oranga (wellbeing) and care.
We communicate with te tamaiti or rangatahi to understand more about them and their whānau or family's circumstances. We communicate to find out what they think and feel about decisions and matters that affect their lives, and to offer support. There will also be times when the purpose is to provide information that is important for them to know. This might include sharing a report with them or talking with them about their All About Me plan.
Allegations of and disclosures of ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation (harm)
During our mahi, we will be talking to tamariki and rangatahi about allegations of harm. We balance developing a relationship with tamariki and rangatahi with obtaining information. We always validate te tamaiti or rangatahi telling us their experiences and we build our understanding with them and others from there.
We explain to te tamaiti or rangatahi that we are talking with them to clarify information provided in a report of concern (for example, someone told us they were a bit worried about what might be going on at home and have asked us to check in to make sure everything is okay). We also gather additional information to ensure we have a clear picture of what has happened to them, and to understand the impact of this experience on them. We are understanding te tamaiti or rangatahi and their feelings of oranga (wellbeing) and what actions (such as in a safety plan) may be required to secure this at the time of disclosure, and with a view to their future oranga.
In some instances, we need to gather enough information to determine whether to initiate the Child Protection Protocol.
We are not expected to interview te tamaiti or rangatahi to gather full details of harm (that is a role for specialist child interviewers). However, we are always prepared for more details to be shared (including new or additional disclosures), and for how we will record these – for example:
- in writing
- accurate and relevant details relating to the incident described, including any questions we asked that elicited information about the incident of harm
- specific wording used by te tamaiti or rangatahi to describe the harm
- date of disclosure, where we are and who is present when the disclosure is made.
- ask lots of open-ended questions to elicit more free narrative – for example, "You told Thomas that Aunty Tania hit you – tell me everything you can remember about how Aunty Tania hit you." "What did your body feel like when Aunty Tania did this hitting?" "How did this make you feel inside?"
- keep asking questions to clarify anything we are unsure about but not in a way that sets out to prove whether something did or did not happen – this is about gathering context, not evidence
- ensure our casenote has a clear header, such as Meeting with Bobby – she disclosed incident of sexual harm
- ensure any new disclosures or allegations are appropriately recorded as a new report of concern.
We look for visible signs of distress and respond to tamariki or rangatahi if they tell us they are worried about us talking to the person who has harmed them. We explain we will speak with the people around them they trust and who will prioritise their safety and wellbeing while we understand more about what has happened.
We end our time together by thanking te tamaiti or rangatahi for helping us to understand their experience. We answer any pātai (questions) they have about what happens next and tell them that they may be asked to share their experience again with a person trained to hear their story (a specialist child interviewer) so we can get the best support for them to be safe and not have the harm occur again.
Talking with tamariki and rangatahi about being in care or custody
We help tamariki and rangatahi make sense of being 'in care' or 'in custody'. This is a kōrero that needs to happen at the time they come into care or custody and then be repeated regularly to ensure te tamaiti or rangatahi understands the reasons over time, and any pātai (questions) they have can be addressed. This is one of the most important conversations we will have with tamariki and rangatahi, so it is really important it is well thought through, if possible, includes suggestions from parents and whānau or family about how to communicate this and is a consistent story told over time.
The Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre undertook a literature review and a qualitative study looking at how tamariki and rangatahi experience and understand the reasons they are not living with their birth parents. Their report 'Making sense of being in care, adopted or whāngai' identifies several factors that help tamariki and rangatahi make sense of their situation:
- knowing their whole story, and the story being strengths-based
- seeing their situation with the perspective of what would have happened if they had stayed with their birth parents
- being given realistic explanations
- talking with and being affirmed by whānau or family and friends
- having access to social workers and counsellors where needed
- normalising their experiences of what makes a whānau or family.
We meet with te tamaiti or rangatahi at the time they come into care or custody to assess their wellbeing and talk about why they are in care or custody, their care arrangement (whānau or non-kin) and what is going to happen next. We listen to how they are feeling about coming into care and answer their questions as best we can.
We provide tamariki and rangatahi with a copy of the My Rights My Voice cards and have a kōrero about their rights. We talk with others in the lives of tamariki and rangatahi who can reinforce this with them.
We ensure tamariki and rangatahi know how and who to let know if things aren't going well. This includes ensuring they understand how they can provide some feedback and/or make a complaint.
We talk with te tamaiti or rangatahi about how often thery would like us to visit them and continue to meet with them at these agreed times to ensure they are supported to develop an understanding of their situation. There will be occasions when we need to visit at other times outside any agreements (such as if there is an incident, a significant change in circumstances) and this is something we can discuss with tamariki and rangatahi as required.
We ask te tamaiti or rangatahi how we can bring in their caregivers for the times te tamaiti or rangatahi tell us something important to them, and to understand their (caregiver's) thoughts on how things are going.
Talking with tamariki and rangatahi about their All About Me plans
We talk with, and listen to, tamariki and rangatahi about their plan. This is their plan – it belongs with them, and they have a right to know about it and participate in the making of their plan as much as possible. The All About Me plan and Tamariki All About Me plan (child-friendly version) offer a way to share the story with tamariki and rangatahi of their time in care or custody.
We arrange a specific time to talk with tamariki and rangatahi about the plan template and its purpose to capture things of importance to them about their identity, contact with whānau or family and other important people in their lives, their health and education, recreational and other interests while they are in care or custody, and their future aspirations beyond being 'in care' or 'in custody'.
We see this as an opportunity to talk about how often te tamaiti or rangatahi would like us to visit them and we show them where we record this in their plan (frequency of visits).
We ask tamariki and rangatahi if they want to fill in parts of the plan with us or with others, or on their own. We talk with tamariki and rangatahi about who else will have input to their plan. We let tamariki and rangatahi know where we keep the plan and that we will talk with them about its contents regularly when we meet up, or at any time if they request this.
We offer a copy of their plan to tamariki and rangatahi and talk with them about sharing it with the important people in their lives. We talk with them about who their plan can be shared with.
We talk with tamariki and rangatahi about how they can let us know if they want to change something in their plan.
We may decide to focus on different parts of their plan with te tamaiti or rangatahi at different times. For example, with rangatahi who are moving into adulthood (16 years and over) we will spend more time talking about their goals and aspirations for the future once they are discharged from our care.
While templates are provided for us to use, we can also include pictures, drawings and other information as agreed with tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau, family or caregivers.
Preparing to leave care or custody
As often as we may need to communicate with tamariki and rangatahi about the reasons they are in care or custody, we also need to be talking with them about a time when they will leave care, because the worries and concerns or youth justice matters have been resolved, or they are transitioning to adulthood (turning 18).
Tamariki and rangatahi will have differing thoughts and feelings about leaving care or custody, ranging from seeing this as a positive step in their journey to feeling worried and concerned about their future. It is important, when having these conversations, to be mindful of their body language, ask their feelings on the matter and make the emphasis of the kōrero about this rather than moving straight into the process.
We talk with rangatahi to understand their strengths and needs relating to life skills. We talk with these rangatahi about their goals and aspirations for their future once they leave our care.
From the age of 14 years and 9 months, rangatahi who have been in care or custody for a continuous period of 3 months or more are eligible for our Transition Support Services.
We talk with rangatahi about having a transition worker. Oranga Tamariki partners with iwi, Māori and other community providers who employ transition workers to team up with rangatahi and support them after they are discharged from care or custody until they are 21 years old.
We plan with rangatahi, their whānau or family and other important people in their lives to ensure they have the right supports and connections as they move into adulthood.
We talk with rangatahi about being able to stay on with their whānau or non-kin caregivers after they turn 18 (this is their entitlement to return or remain living with a caregiver – ETRR).
We talk with rangatahi and their support people about the transition assistance helpline that is available to them after they leave care or custody.
Recording our communication with tamariki and rangatahi
How we record our time with tamariki and rangatahi is important. How would we like them to feel and what do we want them to know about this time in their lives? When te tamaiti or rangatahi seeks access to their records at some point in their future, we want them to know what they told us matters. They have a sense that their social worker heard what they told us and recorded it. If new concerns have been identified, we check with our supervisor about whether a new report of concern should be entered.
We write as if they are watching over our shoulder.
All casenotes and information recorded by Oranga Tamariki can be requested by tamariki, rangatahi and their whānau or family or others under either the Privacy Act 2020 or the Official Information Act 1982.