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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/care/caregivers/assessing-and-approving-caregivers-and-adoptive-parents/assessing-the-home-environment-of-applicants/
Printed: 26/04/2024
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Last updated: 04/04/2024

Assessing the home environment of applicants

The oranga (wellbeing) of te tamaiti must be at the centre of decision-making that affects them. This includes addressing their need for a safe, stable and loving home. When assessing applicants’ homes, we must mitigate or manage any safety risks.

Update made to this guidance

A note has been added to clarify driver licence requirements for caregivers driving tamariki or rangatahi who are in the care or custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive.
Car safety

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 approach

General household considerations

We must carry out a thorough assessment of applicants' homes. The number and age of the tamariki may affect potential risks. For example, an unfenced garden pond is a risk for a toddler but probably isn’t for a teenager.

The general household condition will need to be appropriate to the number and ages of the tamariki who are proposed to live there. We should consider the general environment and assess if the house is:

  • clean
  • warm
  • welcoming
  • cared for.

Indoor safety

We should consider and talk to applicants about:

  • general wiring, such as wall sockets and electrical equipment
  • damp or mould and how will it be managed
  • sources of heating, including open fires and what precautions can be taken to prevent injury or accident
  • smoke detectors in the house — making sure they're fitted and working
  • the layout of the home, such as distance from bedrooms to bathroom
  • spaces that are off limits, such as a home office or study
  • home and contents insurance — letting their insurance providers know about possible care and asking if it will affect their eligibility
  • high windows and whether window locks and restrictors are needed
  • storage of bleach and other dangerous household substances
  • storage and availability of alcohol, medications, cigarettes and lighters in the house
  • use of illegal drugs in the house
  • pornographic materials in the house
  • the safety of stairs and decks, including railings at correct spacing.

Outdoor safety

We should consider and talk to applicants about:

  • the condition and safety of play equipment, such as swings or slides
  • fencing and gates around the house
  • gardening and DIY equipment, such as lawnmowers or chainsaws
  • chemicals stored around the house
  • any pets or animals living on the property — where they live and how whānau or family interacts with them
  • barbecue or fire pit safety.

Home safety | Plunket

Car safety

We should consider if the applicants have:

  • a driver licence and, if so, what type of licence – full, restricted or learner (see the notebox below)
  • a registered car that has a current warrant of fitness
  • full car insurance and have talked to their insurance provider about whether becoming a caregiver will affect their insurance – for example, if they get paid mileage
  • any endorsements
  • any demerit points
  • suitable car seats for tamariki aged 7 years or younger
  • enough seats and seat belts for each person in the whānau or family
  • full seat belts or lap belts in their car.

Using child restraints in New Zealand | Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency

About driver licences | Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency

Caregivers can only drive tamariki and rangatahi in the care or custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive if they hold a full driver licence. A restricted licence is not sufficient because tamariki and rangatahi in the care or custody of the chief executive are not defined as 'dependents' in the Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Rule 1999 (SR 1999/100).
Caregivers without a full driver licence


If applicants have firearms stored on site, we should talk to them about:

  • how the firearms are used
  • if tamariki will see them being used
  • if they have appropriate and current licences
  • if they have lockable storage, such as a cabinet or cupboard that ammunition or detonators can be separately stored in.

If you're in doubt, contact the local Police Arms Office.

Firearms offices and contact details | NZ Police

Smoking and vaping

The willingness and capacity of the caregiver to provide a smoke and vape free environment is an important consideration. It is important that the caregiver can promote the wellbeing of tamariki.

Policy: Smoking and vaping

When we assess the risk of placing tamariki in a household where members or regular visitors smoke or vape, we should look at what actions the prospective caregivers will take to protect tamariki from the impact of second-hand and third-hand smoke. We should explore whether:

  • there’s an area for smoking or vaping that’s outside and away from tamariki
  • cigarette and smoking paraphernalia, such as lighters, matches and ash trays, are kept in a safe place
  • caregivers and other adults who smoke or vape outside change their outer layer of clothing before coming into physical contact with tamariki.

The social worker should provide information and allow space for discussions about the impact of second-hand and third-hand smoke on tamariki and provide additional information if needed. 

Second-hand smoke | Te Hiringa Hauora Health Promotion Agency

We should discuss with caregivers and other adults in the home who smoke or vape how to get support and advice to stop. This may also apply if the rangatahi who is moving into the home smokes or vapes. Information about the health risks to themselves and others allows them to be fully informed.


For caregivers of rangatahi consider how the applicant:

  • is a role model
  • will ensure their smoking or vaping doesn't impact them
  • can educate rangatahi about the long-term health risks of smoking and vaping and support them to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

Abusing volatile substances (huffing)

SACS, Kessler and Suicide screens (SKS)

No smoking in vehicles

The Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Act 2020 aims to reduce the exposure of tamariki and rangatahi to second-hand smoke.

Any time tamariki are present in a vehicle, regardless of where it is, it should be a smoke and vape-free environment.

Smoking or vaping is legally prohibited in a vehicle that is on a road when there are tamariki or rangatahi under the age of 18 in the vehicle. This law applies whether the vehicle is stationary or moving.

Smoking or vaping is permitted if:

  • someone is aged 18 and is the only occupant of the vehicle
  • the vehicle is:
    • manufactured for use as an occasional or permanent dwelling, and
    • stationary on the road and in use as a dwelling.

Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Act 2020

Cannabis and other illegal substances

The possession, cultivation and supply of cannabis in New Zealand is illegal. Regardless of personal opinion on its risks and use, tamariki and rangatahi in care must not be exposed to the use or possession of any illegal substances by caregivers.

Policy: Caregiver and adoptive applicant assessment and approval

Internet safety

We should consider if applicants are IT literate and if te tamaiti has:

  • access to the internet
  • a mobile phone with internet access
  • access to social media
  • access to online gaming.

We should discuss the need for:

  • safety filters
  • supervision, for example if it’s been agreed that they shouldn’t contact family members on social media
  • education about the risks of social media, such as online bullying and only communicating with people you know.


Safe sleep

Tamariki in care should only share a bedroom where it is safe and appropriate for them and the others they are sharing the bedroom with to do so. This should be based on the assessed individual needs of te tamaiti in the context of the family group or whānau living in the home. Social workers and applicants should consider the best safe sleeping options for te tamaiti.

We should consider if the applicants:

  • have sleeping arrangement ideas or plans that are safe and appropriate to the age of te tamaiti
  • intend for tamariki to share a bedroom — think about age and gender mix and any other safety considerations for te tamaiti and others they are sharing a bedroom with
  • have an appropriate firm sleeping surface
  • will be using a safety approved cot as per product safety standards
  • have an understanding of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) and what they need to do to reduce the risk of SUDI
  • have other equipment they require, such as a night light or pēpi-pod.

Policy: Safe sleep

Household cots safety standard | Commerce Commission

Pets and animals

If the applicants own family pets or working animals we should consider:

  • if pets or animals pose any risk of injury to te tamaiti and how they’ll be supervised and kept safe
  • if pets and animals are clean, healthy, well cared and have a close relationship with applicants – there are links between animal abuse and domestic violence
  • if te tamaiti has a role in caring for the pets or animals
  • if it's a dog — it's registered and whether it's bitten anyone before
  • where they sleep — inside or outside
  • how many pets applicants have owned in the last couple of years
  • the age of pets.

Education and engage | SPCA

Swimming pools, paddling pools and other water sources

Pools that hold more than 40cm of water, including kitset and inflatable pools, must be fenced by law. Spa pools must have a lockable lid.

We should consider if applicants:

  • have a pool, including an inflatable pool used occasionally or a spa pool
  • have appropriate fencing
  • have a pond
  • understand the risk of drowning
  • can ensure tamariki will be supervised and safe
  • have any safety or life rings
  • have first aid training
  • have other water sources on or near their property

Refer to your local council for any local rules or regulations for swimming pools.

Council profiles by region

If the applicants have large water sources near them, such as a river, beach, or lake discuss how they can support tamariki in their care to learn to swim and about water safety.

Water sports

If the applicants have a boat or kayak, or engage in any other water based activities we should consider if:

  • te tamaiti will get involved in water activities
  • te tamaiti can swim 
  • applicants have lifejackets available and understand they must be worn at all times.

Quad bikes and other off road motorised vehicles

If applicants own and use quad bikes, we should consider if:

  • they're used for recreational or business purposes, such as farming
  • tamariki will ride as passengers
  • there’s appropriate safety equipment to wear
  • there's quad bikes for tamariki and how they'll be supervised if they use them.

Quad bike manufacturers set minimum ages for using their bikes. This is based on the age when tamariki have sufficient strength, body weight and mental ability to master safe riding techniques.

You have to be 16 or older to use an adult-sized quad bike over 90cc in New Zealand.

Child quad bike injuries factsheet | Safekids Aotearoa

Similar consideration should be given to other off road motorised vehicles, such as dirt bikes or go-karts that tamariki might have access to.


We should consider if:

  • driveways and parking are adjacent to the house and how access is managed
  • applicants can ensure young tamariki will not crawl or walk onto the driveway unseen.

Window coverings with cords

If the applicants have window coverings with cords (including blinds, roman blinds, roller shades or curtains with a pull cord), we should talk to them about:

  • the need for all cords to be kept out of reach of young tamariki – this includes ensuring there is no furniture placed near windows with corded coverings where a tamaiti could climb and become tangled in the cord
  • the need to ensure that beds or cots for tamariki are not placed where they could reach a blind or curtain cord
  • the use of tension devices to keep cords safe.

Emergency planning

We should consider if applicants:

  • have a plan for emergencies, particularly in earthquake prone areas of the country
  • have an emergency kit and provisions at home
  • have a plan to be able to continue their care during an emergency.

Emergency planning resources — GetThru