Working with tamariki and rangatahi when allegations of abuse, neglect, or harm are made against their caregiverThe most important concern in any assessment or investigation of abuse is the immediate safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Upcoming changes for this guidance
This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support 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
Our practice shift
Consider the impact on te tamaiti or rangatahi
The assessment or investigation is likely to be a stressful and potentially traumatic experience for te tamaiti or rangatahi.
We need to make sure we:
- wrap appropriate cultural support, tikanga and ways of working around te tamaiti and rangatahi
- give them the opportunity to talk and be listened to throughout all phases of the investigation or assessment
- are aware that they may have emotional needs beyond those presenting initially, especially if they're the complainant — such as guilt, conflict, fear or anxiety
- address any issues with grief that may arise
- consider the need to support other tamariki and rangatahi in the home, who may also find the investigation or assessment a stressful or traumatic time.
Supporting te tamaiti or rangatahi during the assessment or investigation
The social worker for te tamaiti or rangatahi will be involved in all contact with te tamaiti or rangatahi to ensure they:
- are engaging with someone they already know
- feel comfortable and confident to express their views
- understand what's happening
- have their views taken into account.
The investigation or assessment is carried out by Oranga Tamariki social workers following our usual processes.
The level of support will depend on the assessed needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Support can be offered by:
- explaining the process of assessment or investigation and any police processes
- exploring how te tamaiti or rangatahi is feeling and coping throughout the process
- offering practical assistance
- being available to te tamaiti or rangatahi to answer questions about the process and what happens next
- supporting te tamaiti or rangatahi to engage with appropriate services.
If te tamaiti or rangatahi 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 or rangatahi
Consider what steps can be taken to keep te tamaiti or rangatahi safe in their home where an allegation of abuse, neglect or harm has been made against a person in their home.
When we're making decisions about the ongoing safely and placement of te tamaiti or rangatahi, we should take into account:
- the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi about leaving their home
- protective factors that are in place or can be mobilised within the home or wider network or community around the home
- the bonds of mutual attachment that may exist with people in their home and how these can be maintained
- the impact of moving te tamaiti or rangatahi to another home:
- which is unfamiliar
- where there are no whānau or family connections
- if re-traumatisation or victimisation 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 or rangatahi
- the seriousness of the allegation
- the supporting evidence
- the attitude of the person against whom the allegations have been made
- the physical and emotional risk to te tamaiti or rangatahi
- the wishes of te tamaiti or rangatahi
- the length of time te tamaiti or rangatahi could be placed elsewhere while the investigation or assessment and caregiver review is completed
- the views of others consulted.
Rather than moving te tamaiti or rangatahi from their home during the assessment or investigation, you could consider the person about whom the allegations have been made relocating instead.
Policy: Allegations of harm (ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation) of tamariki in care or custody – Securing safety
"I have ensured their views inform my decision-making."
Practice standard: See and engage tamariki
Preparing te tamaiti or rangatahi to move
If we decide to move te tamaiti or rangatahi 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 or rangatahi about what will happen next in a way that they can understand.
Take time to explain to te tamaiti or rangatahi:
- the reasons for the assessment or investigation
- the reasons for the move
- how long the move might be for.
If the future plan is uncertain until the result of the assessment or investigation is known, then explain that.
If it's appropriate:
- make sure te tamaiti or rangatahi has time to say goodbye to those living in the home
- consider how the caregiver could be involved in restoring and repairing their relationship with te tamaiti or rangatahi in the future — this might not be possible until after the assessment or investigation has been completed, but it's an important aspect of building resilience.
Ensure the All About Me plan for te tamaiti or rangatahi is updated.
Helping te tamaiti or rangatahi stay connected after the move
It is important to understand the significance that the caregiver, their whānau or family and others within their home plays in the life of te tamaiti or rangatahi, and that these relationships will continue to have importance even if they are no longer living together.
If te tamaiti or rangatahi is moving from a whānau placement, consider how their whakapapa connections and their lifelong resources of whanaungatanga will be maintained and supported.
Te tamaiti or rangatahi 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 or rangatahi not to have contact.
Think about how often and how this can happen in a safe way — such as through supervised visits and phone calls, or through letters and texts.
Take note of how te tamaiti or rangatahi 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 or rangatahi to return
When we've decided that te tamaiti or rangatahi will return to their parent or caregiver, think about the transition process and what cultural practices may be required. Involve the parent or caregiver and te tamaiti or rangatahi 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 or rangatahi and the parent or caregiver might need prior to and following the return.
Where abuse, neglect, harm or concerns for wellbeing have occurred, consider whether:
- te tamaiti or rangatahi may benefit from one-on-one work with a counsellor or other professional
- the parent, caregiver or other person and te tamaiti or rangatahi may need to do some relationship-building work together
- cultural practices are required for te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family to address the trampling of mana and breach of tapu that may have been a result of the allegations.
Record the decisions you make, including when information has not been given to te tamaiti or rangatahi, and your rationale for these decisions as you go.
Preparing the caregiver of te tamaiti or rangatahi for their return
When te tamaiti or rangatahi is returning to their caregiver, the caregiver support plan must be reviewed to ensure the caregiver can keep meeting the needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi and determine what further supports may be required.
When te tamaiti or rangatahi doesn't return
The decision not to return te tamaiti or rangatahi to the care of the caregiver is never taken lightly, but there will always be cases where this is the right thing to do.
If te tamaiti or rangatahi is not returning to family/whānau caregivers, consider how their whakapapa connections and their lifelong resources of whanaungatanga will be maintained and supported.
Whether or not their time with the caregiver was happy, the loss of this relationship may still be strongly felt.
- Have a gentle and honest conversation with te tamaiti or rangatahi about the decision and why this decision was made in a manner that is appropriate to their age and development.
- Give them time to take it in and ask more questions.
- Think about ways to bring some closure to the placement for te tamaiti or rangatahi and allow them to say goodbye. Use appropriate tikanga and cultural practices as part of these processes.
- Ensure all of the belongings of te tamaiti or rangatahi are returned to them and consider with te tamaiti or rangatahi what life events from their time with the caregiver they may want to record.