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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/assessment-and-planning/assessments/specialist-topics/working-with-tamariki-aged-under-5-years/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Last updated: 01/02/2023

Working with tamariki aged under 5 years

We support tamariki and whānau or family to describe, determine, realise and sustain their oranga. Tamariki aged under 5 years have particular vulnerabilities that impact their experience of oranga. We draw on Te Toka Tūmoana takepū to support our mahi.

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu – although you are small, you are precious.

Rights of tamariki and their whānau or family

Ngākau whakairo is the practice framework domain that covers rights, values and professional obligations. This is the heart of our work embedded within our practice.

Ngākau whakairo – Rights

For tamariki Māori, te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) is foundational to the context and application of their rights. At the heart of te Tiriti (the Treaty) for Oranga Tamariki is the expectation that we will protect and uphold the familial structures of whānau, hapū and iwi as having the key role and responsibility for the oranga (wellbeing) of tamariki Māori. The Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 sets out the duties of Oranga Tamariki in relation to te Tiriti (the Treaty) where the chief executive is required to improve outcomes for tamariki Māori. This includes giving effect to the principles of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga.

Practice standard: Whakamana te tamaiti – Practice empowering tamariki Maori

The special vulnerability of tamariki is recognised by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRoC), which underlines the need to extend special care and protection to tamariki on grounds of physical and mental immaturity while balancing the rights of whānau or family to provide care for their tamariki. Despite tamariki aged under 5 years being young, they still have the right to have their views heard and wishes respected. In addition, tamariki Māori have particular protection under UNCRoC and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) as indigenous children. For example, the conventions protect the rights of tamariki Māori to enjoy and participate in their culture, religion and language.

We build understanding to support our mahi

Whai mātauranga is the practice framework domain that focuses on the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. This includes the mana-enhancing paradigm, partnering to build understanding, and knowledge and research.

Whai mātauranga

Most cultures have narratives about the significance and preciousness of tamariki. Many cultures have ideas about collective caring, family offering extended networks of support and tamariki being a blessing not just for their parents but for the wider family. It is important when working with family or whānau to understand what ideas about the place of te tamaiti apply within their family relationships and cultural context.

Te Ao Māori

Tamariki Māori are born into the whakapapa of their whānau, hapū and iwi. Traditional Māori parenting has been described as a kinship parenting system, with whānau investing in the long-term development of tamariki to meet their full potential through cultural practices to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Moko can be translated as tattoo or blueprint and puna refers to a wellspring – therefore the mokopuna is regarded as a reflection of their tūpuna.

The underlying belief is that mokopuna are gifts from Ngā Atua (gods) and tūpuna through their genealogy, which means that they are tapu, special and protected under specific rules, and any negativity expressed to them is violating their tapu. A mokopuna is the centre of whānau life. Mokopuna are born tapu and as infants depend on their whānau to protect and care for their development and safety. This requires tapu restrictions that guide behaviours as a protective mechanism.

Tiaki mokopuna is a cultural protective principle that asserts the collective roles, responsibilities and obligations to care for, make safe, support and protect pēpi (babies). The principle is founded in customary beliefs and, when applied within the whānau context, has the transformative potential to guide and strengthen strategies for mokopuna care and safety. The principle of tiaki mokopuna reintroduces the notion that mokopuna are taonga.

Tiaki mokopuna integrates 4 functions described as key to the care and upbringing of mokopuna Māori:

  • the significance of mokopuna
  • tamariki belong to whānau, hapū and iwi
  • the rights and responsibilities for raising tamariki are shared
  • tamariki have rights and responsibilities to their whānau.

Tiaki mokopuna also promotes the care, safety and protection of tamariki Māori within extended whānau networks, moving out to trusted community members, service providers where support is required and, lastly, on some occasions, to a statutory child protection worker.

Wāhine Māori play a specific role within cultural practices used for protecting whakapapa and advancing long-term sustainability of whānau, hapū and iwi. Tāne Māori influence the health and wellbeing of their offspring and posterity. Both mareikura (female) and whatukura (male) contribute to tiaki mokopuna. Kaitiaki roles for wāhine and tāne Māori are essential in modelling healthy relationships and behaviours for mokopuna to create safe environments conducive to their strong, confident development.

Tiaki mokopuna strategies founded on cultural beliefs, principles and customary practice include the strengthening of whānau participation, building relationships and increasing cultural knowledge to advance whānau capacity to care for mokopuna.

Pacific communities

The child is a gift from God to a Pacific family, a source of joy and pride, the realisation and embodiment of the next generation. The child is immediately associated with the identities and legacies of their parents, ancestors, people, lands, and cultures. By birth right, a child is entitled to their kin and vice versa.

The Pacific child traditionally belongs to a 'collective' – a wide network of people connected to the child, including parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and others, living both in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. The extent of collective involvement and the roles of those in the collective can vary between families and cultures, so it is important to explore who is involved and the views they hold about the child, their oranga, and the needs of the family. For example, aunties and uncles may play important roles in decision-making about a child, alongside grandparents.

The values of respect and responsibility are important for Pacific families, especially as they relate to the youngest children in the family. It is common across Pacific cultures for there to be a hierarchy within a family due to birth order, which may or may not be gender based, where the eldest child has responsibility for supporting the family and caring for and protecting younger siblings. Conversely the younger siblings are expected to respect the authority of the older siblings.

Pacific peoples' perception of child rights is connected to their expectations of children and, while all Pacific cultures understand the sacredness of a child, the notion that a child has the same independent and equal rights as an adult goes against norms, political and social practices and traditions. 

All caregiver perceptions of discipline, abuse or neglect are influenced by many things, including parental history, surrounding norms, religion, status of children, what constitutes harm and what is criminal. Pacific families with both parents working long hours may rely on older siblings to provide care or supervision, traditional health practices may influence engagement with western medical services or the emotional harm of exposure to violence may be minimised as it is not a physical injury. We need to understand the views, values and beliefs of the family so our assessment covers the best options for working with the family to address any concerns for the safety or care of the child.

Seek cultural support and advice on working with families from different Pacific nations.

Understanding protective and care needs for tamariki aged under 5 years

Our youngest tamariki have some specific vulnerabilities because of their age and developmental stage. These vulnerabilities require us to be extra vigilant when understanding their protection and care needs.

Pregnancy and early birth have particular risks for both whaea (mother) and pēpi (baby). When working with someone who is hapū (pregnant) or who has the care of a newborn pēpi or infant, we need to be mindful of the key areas that support relating, building understanding and planning with whānau and family. We need to keep in mind and be respectful of the importance of this time, the special bonding pēpi or infant need and always keep this at the centre of our actions and kōrero.

Strengthening our response to unborn and newborn pēpi

Breastfeeding – caring for and nurturing a pēpi

Physical harm can have a significant impact on their developing bodies and their oranga (wellbeing). Bruising is the most common presentation of physical abuse in tamariki. Bruising is not common in pēpi or infants if they are non-mobile and is extremely rare in infants under 6 months – 'children who don't cruise, don't bruise'. As such, we need to carefully explore any bruising or symptom of injury located on a non-mobile pēpi or infant – even one bruise may be highly significant and warrant further investigation.

Abusive head trauma (shaken baby syndrome) is serious and can result in severe disability and even death. Pēpi are particularly vulnerable to injury from shaking – it may only take one or two hard shakes to seriously injure a pēpi. We should work with whānau or family to seek urgent medical attention if we suspect that a pēpi has been shaken or injured.

Child Protection Protocol (CPP)

Tamariki rely on adults for all of their care needs. Our youngest tamariki are non-verbal or are limited in their ability to verbally communicate, and often have limited involvement in environments outside of the immediate whānau or family. This means:

  • they have limited ability to protect themselves, remove themselves from a dangerous or non-responsive environment or seek help for themselves
  • their parents' mental health and capacity to provide safe care has a significant impact
  • it can be harder for professionals or others in the community to notice when a whānau or family needs support – parents and tamariki can become isolated at this time, particularly if te tamaiti is not attending kohanga or preschool or they don’t have much contact outside of their home
  • their needs can become lost within the more obvious or vocal needs of older tamariki.

Infancy and early childhood are important periods for shaping the hinengaro (brain) systems and ngākau (emotional wellbeing) of tamariki so they can form close and healthy emotional relationships to their parents, carers and whānau or family.

Infancy and early childhood are also important periods for ensuring the tinana (physical health) needs of tamariki are considered. Exposure to illness can impact significantly and result in quick deterioration of physical health due to their small size, vulnerable bodies and inability to communicate what symptoms of illness they are experiencing. The protection of their bodies and health with a safe sleeping space and smoke-free air also needs to be considered.

If te tamaiti has additional developmental, disability or health needs (such as low birth weight, premature birth, prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, problems feeding or prolonged crying), their vulnerabilities are escalated.

Tamariki under 5 years old are especially vulnerable to the impacts of cumulative harm (the effects of patterns of harm over time) due to their dependence on adults, close proximity to the effects of whānau and family stress, and rapidly developing physical and mental capabilities. For these reasons, repeat episodes of harm can have a profound impact on their development.

The impact of family harm on the family, whānau, hapū and iwi also affects the tamariki. They can be accidentally caught in the middle of adult violence – being held by a parent while an assault occurs – or have their needs ignored while parental conflict occurs. Hurting tamariki does not have to involve being hit – they can be harmed by growing up with family violence, which violates their tapu and tramples their mana.

Family violence: children get hurt | Brainwave

Te Toka Tūmoana takepū

The following takepū (principles) are drawn from Te Toka Tūmoana (our tangata whenua and bicultural principled wellbeing framework for working effectively with Māori). All Te Toka Tūmoana takepū are relevant to this mahi and work in an interconnected way to provide safety and oranga. We apply these takepū to support our practice when working with our youngest tamariki – while they help guide our practice with all tamariki and whānau, it is important that we also consider the cultural values and principles of the individual tamariki and whānau or family we are engaging with.

The following takepū are particularly relevant when working with this group of tamariki.


Wairuatanga compels practitioners to consider how values and beliefs help to restore and sustain the oranga of tamariki and their whānau or family.

To do this, we:

  • explore with whānau or family how their values and beliefs protect te tapu o te tamaiti (the tapu of the tamaiti) and uphold their inherent mana
  • consider whether whānau or family views are traditional or contemporary or a combination, and if there is conflict between these when caring for tamariki
  • explore with whānau or family their views on care and discipline and how these are connected to their values and beliefs.


Kaitiakitanga refers to the roles, responsibilities and obligations to protect, keep safe, support and sustain tamariki and whānau or family oranga.

We work with the whānau or family to understand how the safety and care of the tamariki is being protected and promoted:

  • We explore the concerns with whānau or family to develop a shared understanding of the oranga needs of tamariki and how these can be protected, supported and enhanced. We ensure this covers any specific concerns relating to their increased vulnerabilities, such as unexplained bruising, shaking, development or health concerns or impact of exposure to family harm. We explore the concerns in terms of their impact on the tapu and mana of tamariki and how safety can be built within the whānau or family.
  • We respect the right of whānau or family to safely parent their tamariki according to their cultural practices or tikanga while ensuring the rights of tamariki to be safe and secure and have their oranga protected. We seek advice from cultural experts if needed to understand parenting rituals that are relevant to tamariki.
  • We explore the roles that whānau or family members (maternal and paternal) play in the care of tamariki:
    • What role do kaumātua (grandparents), whaea (aunts) or matua (uncles) have with the tamariki?
    • Are older siblings or cousins sharing or participating in the parenting, supervision and care of younger siblings (tuakana and teina responsibilities)? If so, we seek to understand this within the cultural context of the whānau or family.
  • We explore how safe sleeping is being promoted within the cultural context of the whānau or family.
    Safe sleeping
  • We consider how breastfeeding is being supported by any interactions that we are undertaking with the māmā (mother) and her partner and whānau or family.
    Breastfeeding – caring for and nurturing a pēpi


Whakapapa is the connection with significant people, places, events, values and beliefs. We support tamariki to have secure attachments or connections to whakapapa by understanding active whanaungatanga networks and those supportive and protective adults within this whānau or family structure:

  • We identify iwi affiliations and whakapapa relationships for tamariki and those adults of significance and their roles or relationships in the life of tamariki. We work to explore how the cultural safety net of the maternal and paternal whānau, hapū and iwi can be supported to fulfil their whanaungatanga relationships.
  • We engage with the matua (father) of te tamaiti and his family, whānau, hapū and iwi to support and be involved in the assessment or planning for te tamaiti.
  • We seek to understand the parenting experience of whānau or family, including any experience the whānau or family may have had with Oranga Tamariki in the past.
  • We pay attention to the safety and oranga (wellbeing) of tamariki within a sibling group and we recognise the unique place of the tamariki within sibling and whānau or family relationships.


Manaakitanga is caring for and giving service to enhance the potential of others. We demonstrate this by:

  • working with whānau or family to increase support networks to provide a nurturing environment for tamariki, reduce isolation and support the wellbeing of the mātua (parents) – parenting this age group can be challenging, and showing care and support to māmā or pāpā throughout this time is important
  • recognising and exploring the roles of wāhine (females) and tāne (males) in the care of the tamariki and seeking to understand how they work together to provide for the oranga needs of the tamariki
  • undertaking early and close collaboration with other professionals and community or cultural supports, which can provide much needed support and knowledge – effective interagency collaboration and work with whānau or family is important and includes following the Child Protection Protocol and the multi-agency safety planning protocol where required
    Child Protection Protocol
    Multi-agency safety planning
  • seeking expert advice about developmental needs, physical health, bruising or injuries to tamariki to ensure our assessment and planning attends to their developing tinana (physical) wellbeing.


Whakamanawa is emancipation based on potential that challenges and transforms oppression for tamariki and whānau or family. To support this:

  • we value the narrative that whānau or family hold about the concerns and how oranga needs can be supported – we recognise that safe whānau or family members are experts on their own tamariki and actively seek out information about what is happening for the parents, whānau or family to support our understanding of the social and cultural context for care
  • we work with whānau or family to identify safe people (whānau or family and non-whānau or family) to hold responsibility for the safety of the tamariki, identify strengths and protective factors, and support opportunities to build safety, protection and oranga within the whānau or family – we support the use of cultural processes to keep tamariki safe, protected and cared for, and we provide support and resources for the whānau or family to implement an agreed plan
    Protect and support the development of tamariki and rangatahi within healthy whānau and families
    Multi-agency safety planning
  • we empower whānau or family to take an active role in determining the oranga outcomes for tamariki – we ensure hui ā-whānau, family meetings and family group conferences are used to engage family, whānau, hapū and iwi, exchange information, and seek whānau or family solutions and resources
  • we recognise that the 'voice' of tamariki needs to be 'heard' differently given their limited or lack of verbal skills – we find alternative ways of engaging with non-verbal tamariki, including observation and play, and we are aware of developmental frameworks to inform the assessment
  • we consider how involvement with kairaranga ā-whānau and Pacific cultural advisors can help us relate with whānau or family by drawing on their cultural expertise and community networks – we seek advice about how to support whānau or family to broaden the family, whānau, hapū and iwi network of support and resources in providing safe care for tamariki
  • we ensure that, where alternative care is needed, we work with whānau or family to develop a plan that ensures tamariki are cared for within their whānau or family group with support and resources to provide safe care and maintain whakapapa and whanaungatanga relationships and responsibilities.

Testing, reflecting on and developing our ways of being and working

Whai ākona is the practice framework domain that focuses on the pursuit of best practice, and covers reflexive practice, supervision and coaching.

Whai ākona

Our practice is deepened when we continue to test, reflect on and develop our ways of being and working. The following prompts support our practice and can be used as we pause, reflect and progress our mahi with this group of tamariki:

  • Given their vulnerability, what does oranga look like for te tamaiti and how does my engagement with the whānau or family support working towards this vision of oranga?
  • How am I paying attention to the wider context for te tamaiti, using my observations and knowledge of harmful characteristics to inform my understanding of what is happening and what te tamaiti might need?
  • Do I have sufficient understanding of the cultural context and developmental needs of te tamaiti, or do I need to seek additional support or knowledge? If so, how will I access this knowledge while continuing to value the narrative of this whānau or family?
  • Who else can help me build my understanding of te tamaiti in the context of their whānau or family?
  • How am I recognising and valuing the special place of tamariki within their family, whānau, hapū and iwi, the importance of whakapapa and whanaungatanga relationships and how these offer solutions for future planning?

Staff resource: Using practice prompts to support reflexive practice