What tamariki want us to know about their belongings
In seeking the views of tamariki they have told us:
'Don't assume what is important for us — ask us and we will tell you what and why it’s important to us.'
They have also said:
- The things we identify as important to us may not mean a lot to others, but they have real significance and value to us.
- These important things might remind us of home especially our family/whānau, remind us of someone we love who has passed away, or they may be things that were given to us as a gift by someone special.
- We want to be able to have things that enable us to be independent and stay in touch with the people we love and care about.
- We want to be able to look after our own belongings, but if we can’t, then we want someone we trust to look after them.
- Many of us have lots of things that belong to us especially if we have been in a stable care arrangement and especially if we live with family/whānau. But there are some of us who are in short-term care arrangements or who have had multiple care arrangements and don't have much at all. We will need extra help getting the things we need.
- The things that mean a lot to us change over time. What we may not value as a child, we might value more as we get older. We will need your help working through this.
- It’s because it’s what I need every day.
Belongings and tamariki Māori
When considering the rights of tamariki Māori to have personal belongings we must have regard to the principles of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whānaungatanga.
Being informed by these principles will allow us to involve tamariki and their whānau, hapū and iwi in discussions about what matters to them. This will enable us to identify taonga and other belongings which can strengthen the connectedness of te tamaiti to their whānau, hapū and iwi and family group.
We should be informed by the principles of our cultural tool, Te Kete Ararau and Te Toka Tumoana to enable us to understand the significance of things which belong to tamariki Māori and how these things connect them to their whānau, hapū, iwi, marae and whenua. If in doubt we should seek advice regarding the cultural significance of belongings te tamaiti and whānau consider to be taonga.
Belongings for tamariki from other cultures
For Pacific children, the Va'aifetu cultural practice framework and principles must be applied when determining which belongings might have particular significance to them and their families. These principles are:
- child's best interest
We need to use the relevant cultural framework for te tamaiti, such as Cook Islands Māori, Fijian, Fijian Indian, I-Kiribati, Niuean, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan and Tuvaluan.
Tamariki may have multiple ethnicities with Māori or other Pacific cultures. Ask te tamaiti and their whānau or family group what ethnic group they identify with.
If we are aware that te tamaiti is asking about, or has in their possession, an item of particular cultural significance, we need to seek appropriate cultural advice about how best to support te tamaiti.
Types of personal belongings
Belongings can include things that have very special meaning to te tamaiti, their family/whānau, hapū or iwi, including family heirlooms and items of significance within the culture or religion of te tamaiti. Belongings can also include practical things such as clothing, bedding, school bags or information which tamariki are entitled to consider their own. Belongings include both the things te tamaiti had with them when they first entered care and the things that they have obtained while in care.
Taonga could be one or more of these things:
- a pounamu, bone carving
- a gift they have received
- jewellery or a family heirloom
- a photo, audio/video recording
- a pillow and/or blanket
- a soft toy, toys, books or utensils, such as cutlery
- spiritual — for example, a prayer or prayer time
- a cultural item or artefact
- religious items or objects
- clothing, such as a significant piece of clothing of a loved one
- smells or tastes — kai/food, such as a special dish or meal that keeps them connected to their family/whānau or someone they love or have an attachment to
- perfume or cologne — it may have significance to a loved one
- hair from a first haircut
Taonga might not be a physical object. For example, prayer time or cultural connectedness could be considered taonga. Listen to what tamariki identify as taonga. It’s what is special for them, not what we think is special for them. Taonga carries the mana of te tamaiti. Taonga will also differ for tamariki depending on their age and stage of development.
Taonga isn’t just something special and of relevance that tamariki want to bring with them. It may also be something that they collect, receive or inherit over time. Taonga provide a tangible reminder of people and places. They can be used intentionally to support tamariki in coping with changes and in remaining connected to loved ones and familiar environments.
Remember to access the resources we have available for tamariki in care such as memory boxes to keep these things safe, if tamariki have them with them, or help them think about how they might include reference to them in their life events record.
Leaving pets behind can be one of the most difficult parts of coming into care for some tamariki, particular those from rural communities where animals play a big part in their lives. In most cases, this will be unavoidable. However, we should talk to caregivers about how they feel about pets. Caregivers may already have their own pets, which could prove a comfort to te tamaiti. When te tamaiti must be separated from their pets, we should think about how we can maintain connections for them, such as through photos and stories about them in their life events record. A cuddly toy resembling their pet may be a source of comfort. Also discuss the possibility of visiting their family pet or animals as part of their plan.
Tamariki have a right to choose which items of their clothing they wish to take with them. Tamariki have a right to choose their own clothes (relevant to age and stage of development) and to be present when clothing is being purchased for them, though this is not required for very young infants. Consider if clothing may be required because of religious beliefs, cultural connectedness, sports or hobbies, school uniform, spirituality, gender diversity or disability-related needs.
For rangatahi, clothing plays an important part in their identity and they feel keenly any sense of difference and the views of their peers. For this reason, what clothing and where they would like to purchase it is important and we should consider their views and provide them with as many choices as possible.
All tamariki entering or already in care must have bedding. Bedding includes linen, pillows and blankets. Consider what bedding meets the needs of tamariki with regard to their age, mental and physical development, and any disability, medical or allergy-related needs.
If tamariki don't have suitable bedding, arrange a time with tamariki to take them to purchase these items so that they can choose their own bedding. We can also ask their caregiver to do this with te tamaiti. Choosing their own duvet cover, such as one with a favourite cartoon character, can be a very simple way of enabling te tamaiti to personalise the room they are staying in and make them feel at home. Any bedding purchased for te tamaiti must follow them — it doesn’t belong to Oranga Tamariki or the caregiver, including family/whānau caregivers.
For babies, consider appropriate bedding in line with safe sleeping requirements.
Sensory and comfort items
For younger tamariki or those with some sensory disabilities, comfort items that have a specific touch or smell may be especially important and being apart from them can be a source of real distress and impact their wellbeing. Take particular care to find out from parents or caregivers what these items are and how they can be encouraged to allow these items to be kept by tamariki. If te tamaiti is not able to take these items, we must take care to find an alternative that can soothe te tamaiti.
It’s important we take a broad view of what 'belongings' are, and take our lead from tamariki, their caregivers and family/whānau.
Like all tamariki, tamariki in care will have a range of things which are theirs. This could include toys, books, sports and recreation equipment, items for school, toiletries and other knick knacks. For older rangatahi, their belongings will increasingly include things like mobile phones and other technology.
For tamariki with disabilities be sure to think about things such as hearing or mobility aids which belong to te tamaiti.
Tamariki should have their own bags to keep their things safe and if they don’t have one we should provide them with one or help them obtain one.
Information about being in care
Tamariki will have resources and information about being in care which belong to them. This will include their Welcome to Our Home Haere Mai ki Tō Tātau Kāinga booklet, their Tamariki All About Me plan, their My Rights My Voice booklet and other papers particular to them.
We can provide them with an information pouch to keep these things safe. Information pouches come in a range of colours for tamariki to choose from and can be ordered from Blue Star, in the same way bags and memory boxes can be.
Views of tamariki
In our conversations with tamariki and family/whānau, we should make time for them to be able to share with us what personal belongings are special to them. We may need to explain in detail what taonga are, as some tamariki and family/whānau may not consider what is special to them as taonga. Practitioners will need to listen closely — check in about what we’ve already noticed that te tamaiti finds important, and/or ask questions to explore what te tamaiti feels connects them to people, places and events meaningful to them.
Tamariki who have a disability or problems communicating may not be able to tell us what is important to them or why. We may need to watch the behaviour of te tamaiti. If they look stressed or worried then something is not right and they need our help to fix the problem. Talk to parents, family/whānau, family groups and carers about what is important for their tamariki.
Some tamariki may not have any or many personal belongings — this will need to be considered when practitioners talk with tamariki.
The practice framework practice standard 'See and engage tamariki' provides practitioners with helpful guidance in engaging with tamariki.
'I can’t leave it behind [taonga], I have to have it. I got to pass that on to my eldest.'
Views of family/whānau
Family/whānau have told us that working with Oranga Tamariki hasn’t always been a positive experience — family/whānau can sometimes feel anxious, frustrated, distressed and emotional when working with us. Family/whānau may not be willing or refuse to allow practitioners to collect the personal belongings of te tamaiti.
Family/whānau may see it as inappropriate for te tamaiti to take certain items with them due to their value or cultural significance and they may worry about it being lost, damaged or stolen or they don’t trust te tamaiti, the caregiver, the practitioner or the organisation to keep these belongings safe and secure.
Each circumstance will be different for each tamaiti and their family/whānau. Consider the option of coming back to discuss the importance of personal belongings for te tamaiti at a more appropriate and potentially less stressful time. This is particularly true if te tamaiti has come into care under urgent circumstances.
The see and engage whānau practice standard will provide practitioners with helpful guidance in engaging with whānau and wider family.
When it is impractical or unsafe for te tamaiti to take their belongings
In some situations, particularly unplanned and emergency placements, there may be safety concerns. In these cases, our focus should be keeping ourselves and te tamaiti out of harm's way, and if necessary leaving behind their personal belongings. Where we are unable to collect the personal belongings of te tamaiti, we should discuss this with te tamaiti and explain the reasons.
Expect te tamaiti to show their distress. We may not fully understand the significance of the particular belonging to te tamaiti at that time, but we should acknowledge that it is important to te tamaiti. Reassure te tamaiti we will continue to try and reconnect them with their personal items at a time when it is safe to do so. We need to consider what support will keep us safe, for example asking for a police escort.
In cases where we suspect the whānau/home is contaminated by chemical residue, such as methamphetamine, we should not enter the property or collect any belongings. We should return to the office, seek advice from our manager and inform the Police immediately.
Best interests of tamariki/best practice
Types of situations to consider
We need to recognise there are differences in the management of belongings when:
- tamariki enter care for the first time
- tamariki in care are transitioning into a different or new care environment
- a move is either planned or unplanned
- a move is in an acute, emergency or unplanned situation
- tamariki are transitioning into or out of an Oranga Tamariki residence or youth justice facility or programme.
When tamariki have few belongings of their own
The reality for some tamariki and family/whānau is that they may not have a lot of belongings or items to take with them. Tamariki may only have the bare essentials — sometimes our most vulnerable don’t even have that. In these circumstances practitioners will need to purchase particular items and belongings for tamariki as part of the discussions and engagement with tamariki and family/whānau. We should think beyond immediate material needs and think about those things that will provide emotional and social support and will nurture talents and interests.
'I had to leave suddenly and lost everything… I had nothing but the clothes I had on. I lost all of my little pet shop toys.'
Making sure belongings are clean and useable
Ensure that belongings for te tamaiti are in a state and condition that is usable, clean, and free from dust mites and pet hair. It may require the practitioner, family/whānau member or caregiver to ensure the belongings are cleaned. This avoids any reactions from others who may have allergies.
Professional judgement will be required if the items such as clothing or bedding are not in a usable condition and they may need to be replaced. We need to explain what is happening to tamariki as these items may have significance for them and they may become anxious about a certain item being replaced.
Damaged, lost or stolen belongings
There may be times when the belongings of te tamaiti are damaged, lost or stolen. Be mindful that this may cause or add to the trauma for tamariki. Use the trauma-informed practice resources to help tamariki manage their feelings and support them by following normal process to replace their belongings.
For some tamariki their personal belongings may have been sold or pawned by a parent, carer or family members to support their alcohol, drug or gambling addiction. Encourage a discussion to identify those items and seek to replace belongings which are important to tamariki.
There may be situations where tamariki run away, or they can’t or choose not to continue to remain at their current care arrangement.
Collection of their personal belongings needs to occur within a reasonable time to ensure that they are safeguarded for te tamaiti. Their belongings should be stored with Oranga Tamariki until te tamaiti is located and settled into a new placement. If a belongings register has been completed for te tamaiti, use this as a reference so that we collect all of their personal belongings.
Rangatahi in youth justice residence and remand homes
Practitioners, residence and remand home staff will need to explain and discuss with rangatahi how to best keep their personal belongings safe while they are in a residence or remand home.
In some cases it may be safer or more appropriate to have their personal belongings returned to family/whānau to ensure they remain safe — it may not be suitable to have them on them or with them as their belongings may be damaged, lost or stolen or create tension with other rangatahi, such as items with gang association.