Why visits to te tamaiti in care are important
Engagement with tamariki and rangatahi is about building and maintaining a relationship with them. Spending regular time with te tamaiti helps us understand and identify early indicators of when things are going well or not so well for them so we can adjust their plans based on their changing needs and developing strengths. We want te tamaiti to be active participants in the decisions affecting them and the development and ownership of their plan. Taking time to listen to te tamaiti, to ensure we have considered their views and to actively demonstrate how we have addressed them in their plans directly contributes to their wellbeing.
Frequency of visits
Our assessment of how often we visit will be different for every tamaiti and rangatahi we work with. This decision is based on the assessed needs of te tamaiti and is made in consultation and considering the views of te tamaiti, their caregiver, the caregiver social worker and wherever possible their whānau.
The decision and rationale for the frequency of visits must be recorded by the social worker and approved by a supervisor in the supervision phase casenotes.
Even where we have set the frequency of visits, we need to be flexible enough to respond to the specific needs of tamariki and rangatahi at any point in their care journey. This might mean increasing the frequency of visiting during a period of crisis. Once the situation stabilises or the issue is resolved, a reassessment of their need for visiting should be completed, taking into account the recent events, and involving the views of te tamaiti and significant others.
Who should visit
The quality of the relationship between tamariki and rangatahi in care or custody and their social worker is a critical component of being able to understand and meet their needs and contribute to their oranga.
Seeing and engaging tamariki is one of our core social work responsibilities and wherever possible visits should be done by the social worker who is allocated to work with te tamaiti and when planned as recorded in the All About Me plan.
If a social worker is unable to visit as planned on a particular day or is taking a period of leave, use supervision to identify barriers and find solutions. Doing what we say we are going to do is one of the ways to build trusting relationships where we are responsive to needs and notice early changes in the safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
As relationships develop explore with te tamaiti or rangatahi who else might be able to visit if the social worker is not available or to provide an increased level of support. This discussion should also occur in supervision, so alternative plans are made to cover unexpected absences.
Planning your visit
We need to be clear about what our purpose is for each particular visit and plan our visit ahead of time. A critical activity during our visits is to develop and review the Tamariki All About Me plan. It is not possible or sensible to cover all areas in the plan in one visit especially if we are being child-centred in our approach and are taking into account any developmental and disability needs.
We should prioritise which topics we will cover based on:
- our Tuituia assessment and assessed areas of needs or strengths
- the areas te tamaiti or rangatahi would like to discuss
- the things that we are noticing are having the greatest impact on them right now (because this is an area of either strength or concern).
The Tamariki All About Me plan engagement cards can support us to cover different areas of their plan when visiting. This approach can also help make sure our conversations with te tamaiti or rangatahi are building upon themselves each time we visit.
Whatever the purpose of our visit and whether it’s with a 3 year old or a 13 year old, every time we need to come away with a sense of what is going well for them, what’s important to them and any concerns or worries. We will know when tamariki and rangatahi feel that they have been heard because they will want to see and talk to us again. We should:
- summarise for te tamaiti or rangatahi any things we have agreed to follow up on and when we will do them
- let them know when we have.
Engaging with te tamaiti or rangatahi
The allocated social worker’s primary responsibility is to:
- address the care, safety and wellbeing needs of tamariki and rangatahi
- advocate for them to be met within the context of their family/whānau, hapū, iwi or caregiver.
We can only support and advocate for te tamaiti or rangatahi if we spend time getting to know them. Support and advocacy require us to understand them as a person in their own right but also to understand where they have come from, where they belong and what the future holds for them.
Tamariki and rangatahi need 2 important things to enable them to participate and engage:
- a positive and trusting relationship with their social worker so they feel safe to voice their thoughts and feelings
- an understanding of care and protection or youth justice — this includes them knowing what Oranga Tamariki does, what the role of their social worker is, why they are involved with us, and the purpose of the particular meeting they’re about to attend.
We frame our role in the context of 2 key messages:
- We are part of a team of people including family/whānau, caregivers, teachers and others — we are a safe adult whose job is to help all the people who care about them to keep them safe and happy and achieve good things in life.
- We are their advocate — it’s our job to listen and hear what they have to say and make sure everyone who cares for them works together.
We might need to explain our role and purpose a few times in the beginning. The exact words don’t matter if we convey the intent, message and compassion. We can check if they understand what we’re saying by asking them to explain to us what they think our job is.
Spending time alone with te tamaiti or rangatahi
Spending quality time alone with tamariki and rangatahi gives them the opportunity to express themselves without constraints or expectations from caregivers, parents, teachers and their friends. This may involve doing something fun with them such as playing a game or going for a walk or bike ride if it is safe to do so. Positive social interaction is a key element of a trusting relationship. It is appropriate to use your incidental expenditure card for small costs associated with these kind of activities.
Tamariki are more likely to tell us their concerns, give feedback, make complaints or disclose abuse or harm if they are given this opportunity. Don’t forget to ask questions about whether te tamaiti has the things that they need such as clothing, school equipment and items to support their play and recreation. We also need to regularly check in that te tamaiti understands their rights. We can use the My Rights My Voice cards to support these discussions.
Just like all new relationships when people don’t know each other, tamariki and rangatahi may prefer to have someone they know and trust stay with them. We use our professional judgement to determine the best approach at the ‘getting to know them’ stage. Once this has been established, each one of our visits needs to have a period of time where we talk with them meaningfully on their own. Caregivers may need support to understand the reasons for this. Involve their social worker in these discussions if needed.
Use good engagement and communication skills
All interactions with tamariki and rangatahi require a beginning, middle and end so we need to consider the structure of how we engage.
Find ways to strengthen their sense of pride and being special because of their heritage especially if working cross culturally, including for Pacific children and young people and those of other ethnicities.
For tamariki Māori consider how your engagement with them can support their connection to their culture. Our visits present a real opportunity to demonstrate the principle of mana tamaiti by valuing the uniqueness of te tamaiti and by nurturing their knowledge of and connection to their whakapapa links and whānaungtanga relationships.
- if they are fluent in te reo we might ask them to help us with our own pronunciation — if they aren’t maybe it’s something we agree to practise together
- if we’ve been talking to them about their whakapapa links and they have a pepeha, we could encourage them to share it with us.
The time taken to engage is linked to the purpose of the visit and developmental level of each tamaitI or rangatahi. Effective communication techniques take into account the developmental level of te tamaiti or rangatahi, their language ability and the research on best practice for talking with tamariki and rangatahi.
We need to:
- be flexible and adaptable
- tailor our questions to their capacity and capability
- proactively address any communication barriers arising from language or disability needs.
- take notice of how well they are staying involved in the conversation
- be very specific with our questions to very young tamariki — they will probably:
- have a short concentration span
- use and interpret language literally
- not give a linear account (from beginning to end)
- have a limited understanding of time, space and distance
- take the time to observe, listen and get to know babies and toddlers and non-verbal tamariki — they are incredibly communicative — and spend time with them and their family/whānau or caregiver to observe attachment patterns.
Closure is an important aspect of any engagement with a tamaiti or rangatahi and should not be rushed. It can include:
- explaining what is going to happen next, including when we will come back and how they can contact us
- answering any questions they might have
- checking in with them about who they might talk to if they have any worries — this reinforces there is a team of people who care about them, are looking out for them and want the very best for them
- thanking them for talking to us.
If we have been talking to te tamaiti or rangatahi about particularly heavy things which have meant they have been emotional, we should take time to reconnect them to the here and now by talking about things that are familiar and comforting to them.
Before we finish our visit, we should spend time talking to caregivers about anything that we have agreed to do and that te tamaiti or rangatahi might need. Make sure te tamaiti or rangatahi knows what we will share with their caregivers and find out if they want to be involved in this discussion. For older rangatahi, this is particularly important.
Engaging te tamaiti in decisions about their life and plan
Whenever we visit te tamaiti, seeking their views and gaining their understanding about how their plan is going and what is important to them is a core activity. We need to do as much as possible to help tamariki understand why big (and small) decisions have been made and actively demonstrate how we have taken their views into account. One of the things it is important to discuss openly and to regularly revisit with te tamaiti is the reasons why they are in care.
Sometimes there may be a disparity between the views of tamariki and rangatahi and the views of their social workers or others who are caring for them about their wellbeing and best interests. Where differing views are held, we need to make sure te tamaiti or rangatahi:
- feels that their voice has been heard
- knows that we are open to hearing their view and will represent their views by ensuring they are shared with everyone
- receives feedback about when we can’t put what they want into place, and why — and we need to record our decisions.
A process of dialogue needs to be encouraged in which the social worker provides advice and support to te tamaiti or rangatahi while actively considering their views in a manner consistent with their age and maturity. Throughout this process, they will gain an understanding of why particular options are followed, or why decisions are taken that might differ from the one they favoured. For the social worker, listening to why the decision matters to te tamaiti may lead to other options being generated to address what te tamaiti has requested. As rangatahi get older and are preparing for independence we should increasingly orient planning to their views and wishes.
Engagement tools and approaches
Use appropriate engagement tools, such as:
- Three Houses
- Tamariki All About Me plan
- My Rights My Voice engagement cards
- Life events books and resources
- specific engagement tools for tamariki and rangatahi who have a disability, such as FASD eyebite cards for tamariki diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder
- drawing, use of pictures and similar techniques for younger tamariki.
The Three Houses is a tool that helps us explore the good things, worries and hopes and dreams that te tamaiti has. However using this every time can become tedious for tamariki so be innovative. It’s not the tool that is important; it’s that we find a way to hear the voice of te tamaiti or rangatahi and that they feel listened to.
Prepare a portable ‘tool box’ which could contain items such as playdough, pens and paper, books, sensory objects like Koosh balls or a busy board to observe eye–hand coordination and fine motor skills. Select tools that settle tamariki and rangatahi, are generally non-distracting and can help the flow of conversation. Make sure there is a good range of age, gender and developmentally relevant resources and things that can support cultural connection.
For tamariki Māori consider using engagement tools that incorporate the Te Ao Māori world view. For example, we can use Te Kete Ararau on our digital device with te tamaiti or rangatahi to locate their marae. Some iwi have developed particular resources to engage around connection and identity. We should research what might be available and use these in our interactions if we can.
Te tamaiti may wish to share their life events book (or other record of their journey and memories) with you. Let te tamaiti take the lead and choose what and when to share with you. If during the visit te tamaiti tells you about a significant event and achievement, ask them if they would like your help to record this in their book.
Examples of engagement tools in action
For some tamariki, colouring in a picture helps to engage conversation but for others they need all their concentration to colour within the lines so it’s better to use a blank piece of paper with coloured pens so they can free draw.
Think about the kind of engagement resources and approaches which are unique to each tamaiti. We can use our incidental expenditure card to make small purchases for and with te tamaiti to support our engagement with them.
Use metaphors and imagery that are meaningful to each tamaiti or rangatahi. If we discover that te rangatahi loves to bake cakes, we could check in using baking analogies and scaling questions — for example ‘Scale your week as if you were cooking a cake, with 1 being burnt and inedible and 10 being cooked the best cake ever. Pick a number and tell me about why it’s so high/low. How did you manage to make it so well? What did you do exactly? What would you change about the recipe next week?’
For pre-verbal tamariki consider reading an age-appropriate book with them or checking their developmental milestones by using play and imagination. Do they know basic things like colours, the sounds animals make, front, back, up, down? Where their nose, ears, eyes are? For tamariki who have differing language prepare by knowing what these words are in their own language. Can they smile, wave, crawl or walk? How are they with eye contact, peek-a-boo or even sharing a toy? Waiata and nursery rhymes, particularly those from the cultural background of te tamaiti, may also be helpful in engaging with very young tamariki.
Rangatahi will want to talk about different things. Think about their level of development and independence. Consider the types of apps and online information we could look at with rangatahi particularly when we are beginning to think about their longer-term aspirations and goals.
Getting help to engage with te tamaiti or rangatahi
Supervisors, colleagues and other staff, such as kairaranga ā-whānau, can give advice if we are having difficulties engaging with te tamaiti or rangatahi.
We can also ask their caregiver, whānau or other trusted people what they think could help us deepen our engagement with them.