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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/care/caregivers/allegations-against-caregivers/working-with-tamariki-when-allegations-of-abuse-neglect-or-harm-are-made-against-their-caregiver/
Printed: 26/01/2020
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Last updated: 01/04/2019

Working with tamariki when allegations of abuse, neglect, or harm are made against their caregiver

The most important concern in any investigation of abuse is the immediate safety and wellbeing of the tamariki living with the caregiver.

Consider the impact on te tamaiti

The investigation or assessment may be a stressful and potentially traumatic experience for te tamaiti.

We need to make sure we:

  • give them the opportunity to talk and be listened to throughout all phases of the investigation or assessment
  • address any issues with grief that may arise
  • are aware that they may have emotional needs beyond those presenting initially, especially if they're the complainant — eg guilt, conflict, fear or anxiety
  • consider the need to support other tamariki in the home, who may also find the investigation or assessment a stressful or traumatic time.

Supporting te tamaiti during the investigation

The social worker for te tamaiti will be involved in all contact with te tamaiti to ensure they:

  • are dealing with someone they already know
  • understand what's happening 
  • have their views taken into account.

The social worker for te tamaiti is not part of the investigation or assessment into the allegation — their role is to support te tamaiti.

The level of support will be led by te tamaiti. Support can be offered by:

  • explaining the process of investigation or assessment and any police processes
  • exploring how te tamaiti is feeling and coping throughout the process
  • offering practical assistance
  • being available to te tamaiti to answer questions about the process and what happens next.

If te tamaiti needs to be interviewed, their social worker will provide support and may provide clarifying information, but will not lead the interview.

Building safety around te tamaiti

Consider the risks of te tamaiti remaining in a home where an allegation of abuse, neglect, or harm by their caregiver has been made — but also consider the downsides of moving them to another home.

Give particular consideration if te tamaiti:

  • doesn't want to leave
  • had a positive, close and secure relationship with the caregiver, or
  • would be going to an unfamiliar home.

When we're making decisions about the ongoing safety and placement of te tamaiti, we should take into account:

  • the bonds of mutual attachment that may exist with the caregiver
  • re-traumatisation or victimisation that could occur as a result of a move — be mindful that this incident may trigger previous experiences of placement breakdown
  • the vulnerability of te tamaiti
  • the seriousness of the allegation
  • the supporting evidence
  • the attitude of the caregiver
  • the physical and emotional risk to te tamaiti
  • the wishes of te tamaiti
  • the length of time te tamaiti could be placed elsewhere while the investigation or assessment and caregiver review is completed
  • the views of others consulted.

Instead of moving te tamaiti from the caregiver's home or the Family Home during the investigation, you could consider the caregiver moving out instead.

Policy: Allegations of abuse, neglect, or harm of tamariki by caregivers — Building safety

"I have ensured their views inform my decision-making."

Practice standard: See and engage tamariki

Preparing te tamaiti to move

If we decide to move te tamaiti to a new placement, it's important to make the transition as smooth as possible.

It is important to share as much information as possible with te tamaiti about what will happen next in a way that they can understand.

Take time to explain to te tamaiti:

  • the reasons for the investigation or assessment
  • the reasons for the move
  • how long the move might be for. 

If the future plan is uncertain until the result of the investigation or assessment is known, then explain that.

If it's appropriate:

  • make sure te tamaiti has time to say goodbye to the caregiver and other members of the caregiving family/whānau
  • consider how the caregiver could be involved in restoring and repairing their relationship with te tamaiti in the future — this might not be possible until after the investigation or assessment has been completed, but it's an important aspect of building resilience.

Helping te tamaiti stay connected after the move

It is important to understand the significance that the caregiver and their family plays in the life of te tamaiti and that these relationships will continue tto have importance even if they are no longer living together.

Te tamaiti might maintain contact with their caregiver or others in the household after they move if:

  • it's possible they'll return to the placement
  • the level of attachment is such that it would be harmful to te tamaiti not to have contact. 

Think about how often and how this can happen in a safe way — eg through supervised visits and phone calls, or through letters and texts.

Take note of how te tamaiti is after contact and check in with them about how it's going. If the contact is causing them harm, then reconsider whether this is the right thing to do.

Preparing te tamaiti to return

When we've decided that te tamaiti will return to their caregiver, think about the transition process. Involve the caregiver and te tamaiti in the discussions.

The return could be swift (for example, without any transition visits) or it might be best to start off with shorter visits so that people have a chance to get reacquainted.

Think about what support te tamaiti and the caregiver might need prior to and following the return.

Where harm has occurred, consider whether:

  • te tamaiti may benefit from one-on-one work with a counsellor or other professional
  • the caregiver and te tamaiti may need to do some relationship-building work together.

Casenote the decisions you make and your rationale for these decisions as you go.

When te tamaiti doesn't return

The decision not to return te tamaiti to the care of the caregiver is never taken lightly, but there will always be cases where this is the right thing to do.

Whether or not their time with the caregiver was happy, the loss of this relationship may still be strongly felt.

  • Have an honest conversation with te tamaiti about the decision and why this decision was made.
  • Give them time to take it in and ask more questions. 
  • Think about ways to bring some closure to the placement for te tamaiti and allow them to say goodbye.