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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/care/caring-for-tamariki-in-care/care-arrangements-for-tamariki-and-rangatahi/unaccompanied-tamariki-and-rangatahi-section-48/
Printed: 18/07/2024
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Last updated: 08/07/2024

Unaccompanied tamariki and rangatahi – section 48

When Police use section 48 for tamariki or rangatahi found in a situation where their physical or mental health is, or is likely to be, impaired, we find an approved care arrangement, meet their immediate needs and assess their oranga (wellbeing).

What is section 48

Section 48 provides Police with the authority to take urgent action to ensure the safety of a tamaiti or rangatahi. Under section 48, Police only intervene if the following 2 conditions are met:

  • Te tamaiti or rangatahi is found unaccompanied by their parent, guardian or other person who usually has their care, and
  • Their physical or mental health is being, or is likely to be, impaired.

Once Police have determined the above 2 conditions have been met, they can detain Te tamaiti or rangatahi and deliver them to 1 of the following options:

  • If the parent, guardian or other person who usually has care of te tamaiti or rangatahi is willing and able to have custody of them and te tamaiti or rangatahi consents, then Police may return them to that parent, guardian or other person, or
  • If the parent, guardian or other person is unable or unwilling to have te tamaiti or rangatahi, or consent is not given by te tamaiti or rangatahi to be returned, then Police must place te tamaiti or rangatahi into the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive by delivering them to a social worker.

There is no provision in section 48 that allows Police to find alternative care arrangements for te tamaiti or rangatahi. Section 48 does not give Police authority to place te tamaiti or rangatahi with anyone other than their parent, guardian or other person who usually has care of them or into the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive.

Police responsibilities under section 48

Police are responsible for the care and custody of te tamaiti or rangatahi until they are delivered to an Oranga Tamariki social worker or returned to the care of their parent, guardian or other person usually having the care of them.

Police are not obligated to help with transport except for delivery to an Oranga Tamariki social worker. However, we can ask for help if we need it and Police may provide support if resources allow.

Police will provide us with a 'Section 48 – Notice of placement in custody of chief executive of Oranga Tamariki'. This notice will be made on Police form POL3031. The notice must be signed and dated with the time that Police place te tamaiti or rangatahi into the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive.

When alternative care pathways are more appropriate

We should talk with Police about alternative care pathways when Police have:

Section 48 should not be used in these situations.

Our practice under section 48

Our first responsibility when Police have actioned a section 48 is to provide a safe care arrangement for te tamaiti or rangatahi as soon as possible.

The care arrangement for te tamaiti or rangatahi can be made with:

  • their parent, guardian or usual caregiver if both they and te tamaiti or rangatahi agree
  • an approved caregiver
  • a caregiver who has received provisional approval for an urgent placement.

Our first step is to work with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their parent, guardian or usual caregiver to get agreement for the return of te tamaiti or rangatahi to their care. Ask Police what information te tamaiti or rangatahi has provided about their parent, guardian or usual caregiver or home environment and whether Police have considered returning te tamaiti or rangatahi there. Understanding barriers and exploring what supports or assistance might be needed short term may help this happen.

If this is not an option, then we explore other whānau or family members, friends or associates that te tamaiti or rangatahi may be able to stay with short term. Remember, te tamaiti or rangatahi is in our custody so any care arrangement needs to comply with the caregiver assessment and approval policy (provisional assessment for urgent placements). If no whānau, family, friend or associate can be identified, then te tamaiti or rangatahi needs to be placed with another approved Oranga Tamariki caregiver. If it is considered necessary, te tamaiti or rangatahi can be placed in a residence (section 48(2)).

Policy: Care arrangements

Policy: Caregiver and adoptive applicant assessment and approval – provisional assessment for urgent placements

Responding to the immediate needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi

The entry to care of te tamaiti or rangatahi on a section 48 is an unplanned, urgent action, and the usual opportunities for engagement, relationship building and understanding of needs may not have occurred, especially if the care arrangement has occurred after hours. We may have little or no information about te tamaiti or rangatahi.

We therefore need to assess and respond to any immediate needs that te tamaiti or rangatahi may have. We:

  • review CYRAS
  • consider:
    • any health concerns (allergies, and immediate medication )
    • whether there is any indication of immediate mental health or alcohol or drug needs (using the SKS screen wherever possible)
    • whether te tamaiti or rangatahi has been harmed while they were away from their parent, guardian or usual caregiver
    • when te tamaiti or rangatahi last had something to eat
    • whether te tamaiti or rangatahi is adequately clothed
  • ensure that:
    • the caregiver is given all the information that is relevant to their care of te tamaiti or rangatahi
    • te tamaiti or rangatahi knows who they can contact, and who will contact them about what happens next.

Completing the core assessment phase to understand safety and needs

Once a care arrangement has been secured for te tamaiti or rangatahi and their immediate needs have been addressed, we complete an assessment of their safety and needs and in particular the situation that led to them being placed in our care under section 48.

Working with whānau or family to support the return of te tamaiti or rangatahi to their care is a key focus, as well as building understanding about the circumstances that led to te tamaiti or rangatahi coming into our care. We work to support the whānau or family to address barriers or issues so they can resume safe, stable care of their tamaiti or rangatahi.

Sometimes Police may exercise section 48 after arresting the adult or adults who were with te tamaiti or rangatahi, which leaves them unaccompanied. We clarify this with Police as the parent or usual caregiver may still be in custody when we try to consult with them about an alternative care arrangement for te tamaiti or rangatahi.

Core assessment phase

When the section 48 is exercised on a rangatahi

While rangatahi aged 14 and older are legally able to be out and about, unaccompanied by an adult, Police may still exercise a section 48 if they think the circumstances that the rangatahi is found in are impairing their physical or mental health, or are likely to impair it.

Our key focus in these situations remains the same – securing an appropriate care arrangement for the rangatahi (ideally a return to their parent, guardian or usual caregiver or a whānau or family member), addressing their immediate needs, and then working with their whānau or family to address any concerns or supports that are needed.

If the section 48 is actioned after hours

If the section 48 is exercised by Police after hours, this is a critical situation as te tamaiti or rangatahi requires a care arrangement immediately.

It is best practice for the National Contact Centre (NCC) to receive the signed and dated copy of the section 48 (POL3031) with the time of when Police exercised the section 48 before they call out the after-hours duty social worker. However, this might not be practicable – for example, when an undue delay getting the after-hours duty social worker to the location will compromise Police resources or the wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi. Provided the NCC is confident Police will exercise the section 48 and the NCC will receive a copy, the after-hours duty social worker can be called out.

Police are under no obligation to transport te tamaiti or rangatahi to the care arrangement we have identified. However, Police may agree to help if it is in the best interest of te tamaiti or rangatahi – for example, if the after-hours duty social worker is located rurally, Police will remain responsible for te tamaiti or rangatahi during the time it takes the social worker to travel to the Police station to collect te tamaiti or rangatahi.

If Police transport te tamaiti or rangatahi to the identified care arrangement, we should contact the caregiver to:

  • confirm te tamaiti or rangatahi has arrived
  • confirm the caregiver and te tamaiti or rangatahi have everything they need
  • arrange what will happen next, including contact from a social worker.

When the section 48 provision expires

The section 48 provision expires:

  • when te tamaiti or rangatahi agrees to be returned to their parent, guardian or usual caregiver who is willing to have the care of them, or
  • when an application is made to the court for a care or protection order and the court decides whether te tamaiti or rangatahi needs to remain in the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive until the application is heard, or
  • on the 5th day after it was exercised if the social work assessment of the situation for te tamaiti or rangatahi indicates that te tamaiti or rangatahi is or may be in need of care or protection (for example, if it is signed by Police on a Monday, Tuesday is the first day (etc), and it expires at midnight on the 5th day, which is Saturday)
  • 3 days after the section 48 document is signed by Police if the social worker assessment indicates te tamaiti or rangatahi is not or may not be in need of care or protection.

If the section 48 provision expires and we believe te tamaiti or rangatahi needs to remain in the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive, we use another method to seek custody (usually by applying to the Family Court).

Pathways to care: care agreements

If the custody of te tamaiti or rangatahi is extended past the initial period of the section 48, then the National Care Standards apply.
Care standards

What to record following a section 48

When a tamaiti or rangatahi is placed in the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive under section 48, we need to create a report of concern. We record the circumstances leading to the section 48 situation and subsequent placement in the care of the chief executive. This is then referred to the site to complete an appropriate assessment.

If te tamaiti or rangatahi is already in the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive

If te tamaiti or rangatahi is already in the custody of Oranga Tamariki, a section 48 status is not required for Police to detain them and return them to our care. If Police have exercised a section 48, the section 48 can be casenoted, rather than recorded as a report of concern. The casenote should be reminded to the allocated social worker and their supervisor to ensure they are aware of the situation and can complete the appropriate follow-up with te tamaiti or rangatahi.

However, if the circumstances of the section 48 indicate new concerns, a report of concern will likely be the most appropriate method of recording.

Where the circumstances of the section 48 include an allegation or concern that te tamaiti or rangatahi has been harmed or abused, then a new report of concern is required in line with regulation 69 of the National Care Standards. If the intake social worker is unclear, they consult with their supervisor about whether to record a casenote or a new report of concern.

Policy: Allegations of harm (ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation) of tamariki in care or custody

We attach the 'Section 48 – Notice of placement in custody of chief executive of Oranga Tamariki' (POL3031) in CYRAS. Ensure the legal status is recorded on the notifier/referral details screen and updated in the client details screen.