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Printed: 01/10/2022
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Last updated: 01/07/2019

Transitioning between placements

We support tamariki and rangatahi effectively as they enter care, move to live with a new caregiver, move into or out of a residence, return home or live permanently with a new whānau or family.

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

Who this guidance is for

This guidance is for social workers working with tamariki and rangatahi who are coming into care, moving between placements or moving out of care.

Policy: Working with tamariki and rangatahi in residences

Policy: Ensuring a safe, stable and loving home for tamariki in care

It does not cover guidance for social workers working with rangatahi moving to an independent living situation.

Policy: Transition to adulthood — Maintaining contact

Assessing life skills

Policy: Transition to adulthood — Advice and assistance

Understanding the challenge of transitioning

Tamariki and rangatahi will feel sensitive, uncertain and vulnerable in any situation where they need to enter a new care environment or change their placement. They are at risk of feeling they have no control over their lives and wellbeing. Even if tamariki and rangatahi don’t show obvious signs or don’t speak openly about the change, the impacts can be deep, shaking confidence and stability, and potentially impacting on mental and physical wellbeing — short and long term. We need to support tamariki and rangatahi effectively through trauma-informed practice.

Trauma-informed theory

The length of the transition period for tamariki and rangatahi (or the time it takes for them to settle and feel safe, secure and at home) also depends on their age and stage of development, views and wishes, connection with the new caregiver, reason for being in a placement (e.g. Youth Justice residential placements), relationship with their current caregiver and urgency of need.

Tamariki and rangatahi moving into whānau care with people they already know and have a connection with may need a shorter transition period (such as 6 weeks instead of 9) but it may take longer if tamariki and rangatahi don’t know their caregiver. It may take weeks or months for them to feel completely settled and safe in their new home. A social worker will only know this by remaining in regular contact with them and engaging with them in honest conversations about how things are progressing.

Rangatahi being placed within a residential setting may have further needs in securing a safe transition. Social workers need to liaise with the residential staff to identify and manage their role within this area.

See and engage tamariki

Assessing the needs of tamariki and rangatahi

At every point in the transition process (before, during and after), social workers need to assess and reassess the needs of tamariki and rangatahi using the Tuituia assessment framework. This helps identify ongoing needs that tamariki and rangatahi have through their transition time.

A critical part of assessment and decision-making before any transition takes place is anticipating and minimising potentially negative impacts from changes that need to be made. Each step should be planned to minimise disruption.

One important focus is keeping siblings together when changes in placements need to occur. This is always our priority and separating siblings should only ever be a very last resort, as we know this can bring grief and disruption, impacting very negatively on the natural roles and responsibilities that siblings may have in caring for each other. Assessing and deciding on placement changes should always allow tamariki and rangatahi to maintain important relationships with their brothers and sisters. These relationships need to be recognised, fostered and protected through the transition.

The impacts of transitions from youth justice placements on the wellbeing of rangatahi also need to be understood by social workers.   In particular they may be returning to an environment that makes it difficult for rangatahi to sustain the changes in behaviour they may have achieved whilst in care.  This could be due to community and peer group factors, as well as factors within the whānau. Good communication and acknowledging and assisting rangatahi to work through any challenges will help support a successful transition.

It’s also important to remember that tamariki and rangatahi will have both current and developing needs — for example, a change in placement will likely result in grieving, as existing relationships end, and potential anxiety, as new friendships may need to be fostered.

Social workers should review the current plans of tamariki and rangatahi to identify their strengths and needs. This also gives them a sense of what support networks are in place for tamariki and rangatahi now and what needs to be sustained so that they can build a sense of continuity with the people in their lives, including their siblings, whānau or family, teachers, friends and community interests, such as sports clubs, kapa haka groups and so on.

For tamariki Māori, points of transition can also present an opportunity where new care arrangement can continue to support important whakapapa connections.

Using the Tuituia recording tool

Maintaining a record of important life events

Planning the transition carefully

The transition plan needs to keep the wellbeing and best interests of tamariki at the centre of decision-making — this includes a focus on their safety, stability, key relationships, health, development and healing from harm and trauma.

Some key considerations in transition planning include:

  • ensuring there is always a plan in place for tamariki and rangatahi coming into care or moving between placements
  • making sure the plan is thorough and done as early as possible — and it includes dates
  • thinking ahead, as a precautionary measure, to any back-up plan for the future if, for any reason, the care arrangement doesn’t work at any point
  • making sure the views, needs and strengths of tamariki and rangatahi are heard and put into plans
  • making sure the views of former and prospective caregivers, family, whānau, hapū and iwi, residence managers (where applicable) and other support people such as teachers are also included in planning
  • making sure plans strengthen and maintain key relationships for tamariki and rangatahi, including with siblings, family, whānau, hapū, iwi, friends, household pets and key support people
  • making central the wellbeing and best interests of tamariki and rangatahi, including their cultural identity, disabilities, strengths and needs
  • remembering the importance of belongings, life stories and other taonga for tamariki and rangatahi, and making sure they can bring these with them — or have a safe place to keep them
  • making sure the plan has tangible steps that caregivers (and residence managers if applicable) and others will take to ensure tamariki and rangatahi are well supported in their transition and will have their needs met
  • making sure we minimise disruption for tamariki and rangatahi, avoiding changes to their early childhood settings or schools and other services wherever possible
  • making sure plans include the provision of information and support for tamariki and rangatahi, so that if they have to change services (such as a new school, a new doctor, or a different sports team), they can do this as smoothly as possible.

Policy: All About Me plan

In the area of Youth Justice, the transition plan also needs to take into consideration any legal requirements as per the order or wider plan that may be in place. These may include s311 Supervision with Residence Orders or s283k Supervision orders following transition from residence.

While considering the needs of tamariki and rangatahi, we need to also keep in mind the impact on parents when their tamariki and rangatahi are transiting either out of their care or between youth justice placements. This is a traumatic time for them also and wherever possible we need to talk with them about what supports they may need to help them through these times. They remain a very important connection for tamariki and rangatahi. Ensuring they have the right support through transitions can directly contribute to the maintenance of their relationships with their tamariki and rangatahi.

Recording the transition plan

Social workers need to record assessment and planning information and the steps that need to be taken to support the transition in the All about Me plan for tamariki and rangatahi. There may be an existing All About Me plan that tamariki and rangatahi have that can be updated with new assessment information, with the specific transition needs captured in the transition between placement section. However, if they are entering our custody for the first time, they need a new All About Me plan with their transition needs identified.

Policy: All About Me plan

Maintaining a record of important life events

Policy: Working with tamariki and rangatahi in residences

Monitoring and reviewing the transition plan

Once transition plans are in place with all necessary steps and supports noted, the plan needs to be monitored to see how things are going for tamariki and rangatahi in the new placement and to ensure it is working for them.

Social workers need to visit tamariki and rangatahi with increased regularity during their transition period to both help them settle and also monitor their plan. The frequency of visiting should be assessed, taking into account the views of tamariki or rangatahi and their new caregiver and caregiver social worker, and recorded in the All About Me plan. They also need to check in with the caregiver, caregiver social worker, whānau or family and others in the community or circle of support for tamariki or rangatahi, to see how things are progressing in their transition. Whānau or family and others connected to tamariki and rangatahi all have a whanaungatanga role in supporting them through the transitions process.

Rangatahi Māori may have an existing support network or one that can be strengthened through whakapapa and whanaungatanga relationships within their hapū, iwi or marae that can be drawn on particularly during these times. 

If areas of the plan are not meeting the needs of tamariki or rangatahi effectively, the plan and actions to meet those needs should be updated, as the plan is an iterative, working document. The transition plan needs to remain in place until the placement is stable.

If tamariki or rangatahi have transitioned to a residential placement, then regular contact with tamariki and rangatahi, as well as with the residential staff responsible for their care, is vital.

This information also needs to be recorded.

Policy: All About Me plan

Policy: Visiting and engaging with tamariki in care

Helping prepare tamariki and rangatahi for their transition

There are things that social workers can do to help prepare tamariki and rangatahi for their transition ahead of time.

They can:

  • ensure key support networks are ready and there for tamariki and rangatahi when they transition — or as soon as possible afterwards
  • ensure tamariki and rangatahi have the opportunity to bring their belongings with them — or that they’re stored safely if this isn’t possible
  • wherever possible, enable the former caregiver to farewell tamariki and rangatahi from their placement, and enable the new one to welcome them — if they are transitioning to a new site, it is useful for the former social worker to farewell them and for the new social worker to welcome them
  • where possible, support tamariki and rangatahi to meet their new caregiving family or people who live in the residence ahead of time
  • work with the residential manager for tamariki and rangatahi if they are moving to a residence, to ensure they have as much information as possible about the living environment before they arrive there — and the social worker should discuss this with them
  • plan for key events such as tamariki or rangatahi needing to attend a court hearing to minimise disruption where possible.

Social workers need to engage with tamariki and rangatahi directly as soon as it is clear that a transition may be needed. This should be face-to-face and the sooner this happens, the more prepared te tamaiti or rangatahi can be for the possible change.

If transitions occur as part of a legal process, such as in a Youth Court setting, social workers need to ensure they communicate with rangatahi about this possibility as soon as possible. They need to do this in a way that allows rangatahi to process what may occur. It is important to avoid a situation where rangatahi are surprised to be in the legal setting. Social workers need to ensure they communicate this with rangatahi in a way that acknowledges their developmental needs.

In order to communicate effectively with tamariki and rangatahi, social workers need to:

  • explain what is happening to tamariki and rangatahi in ways that are appropriate for their age and stage of their development
  • provide as much information as they can to tamariki and rangatahi about the new caregiving arrangement — this includes a ‘Welcome to our home’ booklet
  • be as honest as possible in communicating and talking with tamariki and rangatahi, using language they understand — this can be supported through the use of the ‘Welcome to our home’ booklet and the ‘Voices of children’ engagement cards
  • give tamariki and rangatahi lots of opportunities to share their feelings, worries, concerns, hopes and dreams about the change and use this to guide the decision-making process
  • talk to tamariki and rangatahi about the possible length of time the move is for and what will happen next.

Information and visits for prospective placements  

If the transition is the result of an allegation of abuse, neglect or harm against the current caregiver and it is not appropriate for te tamaiti or rangatahi to remain in the home, the social worker may want to talk to their supervisor about what and how best to share this information with tamariki or rangatahi. Where appropriate, the social worker should let them know about the investigation process and the timeframe for sorting things out.

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

Helping prepare caregivers for the transition of tamariki and rangatahi

Social workers working with tamariki and rangatahi transitioning between care placements need to work closely with their caregiver social workers as part of a team approach. Caregiver preparation is an important factor in the overall success of the transition for tamariki and rangatahi.

Some basic things the social worker can do to help the caregiver prepare for the transition of te tamaiti or rangatahi to their care placement are as follows:

  • Engage with the new caregiver early and set the scene before the placement begins.
  • Help the caregiver to create or review their ‘Welcome to our home’ booklet so it can be tailored for tamariki or rangatahi.
  • Start the process of building a relationship between the caregiver and te tamaiti or rangatahi early so attachment can transfer from the former caregiver to the new one with more ease.
  • Where possible prior to the placement provide the caregiver with an up-to-date All About Me plan so they know key information about tamariki or rangatahi and can welcome them in the right way.
  • Discuss the plan so the caregiver knows their role in supporting goals for tamariki or rangatahi and let them know that you will be monitoring the plan with their input.
  • Help them be aware of and plan for any contact between tamariki or rangatahi and their former caregiver and whānau or family as appropriate, and others in their support network — ensuring they understand how this can help reduce anxiety and support settling in for tamariki or rangatahi.
  • Provide whānau caregivers with as much support as non-kin caregivers — avoid assuming whānau or family or those linked by iwi or hapū to te tamaiti or rangatahi are able to manage with less support than caregivers who are not linked this way.
  • When caregivers (including whānau caregivers) express worries, no matter how small, respond to them immediately. Tamariki and rangatahi should always live with safe whānau or family in the first instance, so it is equally important to respond to whānau or family needs immediately as it is to non-kin caregivers.
  • Use hui ā-whānau with whānau to help put the right supports in place when tamariki and rangatahi transition to them for care prior to the placement and then on an ongoing basis.
  • Share information about the school or early childhood provider of tamariki and rangatahi with new caregivers, including the schedule of pre-placement visits and when the move is expected to happen.
  • Encourage and support new caregivers to start engaging with the school or early childhood provider and getting to know the staff.

Social workers also need to support caregivers and tamariki and rangatahi by getting everyone together to work out the appropriate arrangements for the transition. This includes tamariki or rangatahi, their whānau or family and support network, the current and new caregiver, and the caregiver social workers.

The former caregivers may also need support to identify and express their feelings about the placement change. Other tamariki or rangatahi in the home (either those in care or the caregivers' own tamariki) may also require support to cope with the loss of a household member.

The social worker’s relationship with the current and prospective caregivers’ social workers is really important and requires regular conversations to share the progress made.

Social workers also need to share information with caregivers so they know what support Oranga Tamariki can provide them with, including:

  • providing transportation for tamariki
  • financial assistance to provide care during the transition
  • how to respond to the trauma or behavioural needs of tamariki or rangatahi
  • what local resources and supports are available.

In Youth Justice residential placements, rangatahi may transition from a residential placement back to whānau (or caregivers), so it’s important to ensure effective communication with whānau occurs throughout the rangatahi placement in the residence.

These transitions may be complex and rangatahi and whānau may have underlying anxiety about the transition home.  There will be dynamics that exist within the home environment that need to be navigated effectively from both a whānau and rangatahi perspective. These need to be carefully considered as they can sometimes sabotage successful transitions and the compliance of rangatahi with legal orders concurrent with their transition.

Policy: Caregiver support

Urgent transitions

Social workers need to work around issues that can arise and avoid, where possible, abrupt placement changes which can create significant harm to tamariki and rangatahi.

If a placement change needs to happen quickly for tamariki or rangatahi for safety reasons, the social worker should:

  • plan as much of the transition as they can to make the move as smooth as possible for tamariki or rangatahi — if there are any areas requiring fuller planning after the transition has happened, they should complete this planning as soon as possible after the move has occurred and build this into the transition planning section of the All About Me plan
  • reassure tamariki or rangatahi that they will be there for them and keep them informed
  • actively seek to manage and minimise the impact of the disruption
  • always make any decisions about tamariki shifting homes with the participation of tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family and caregivers
  • involve hapū, iwi and others important to tamariki or rangatahi in the conversations about transitions, keeping them well informed and connected as much as possible
  • consider if it is appropriate for tamariki or rangatahi to safely remain in their current placement with extra supports or services until they can be transitioned somewhere new in a way that is less rushed and disruptive
  • refer to the Oranga Tamariki trauma-informed practice approach to guide their interactions with tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family at these difficult times, especially when things are challenging and circumstances may need to change.

For tamariki and rangatahi, this means social workers will:

  • explain what is being done and who will be there to support them through this uncertain time
  • reassure them about any concerns they have
  • set regular times and dates that they will make contact with them (face to face is best) to see how they are doing and remind them they are there for them
  • be sure to let them know how to get hold of them or their supervisor if they have any questions.

After the move to the new placement

The social worker listens to the wishes of tamariki or rangatahi and consults with their supervisor, and then decides whether it is in the best interests of tamariki or rangatahi to maintain or re-establish ongoing relationships — both with the whānau or family or other caregivers. If it is in the best interests of tamariki or rangatahi, they arrange the best process for maintaining contact or re-establishing contact once the transition has taken place.

When there are decisions for ongoing contact with previous whānau or family or other caregivers, social workers should set up some post-placement contact for tamariki and rangatahi with them. This should already be planned with the current caregivers as part of the preparation period.

Where contact is with previous caregivers who are not whānau or family, contact may diminish over time depending on circumstances. Having some ongoing contact initially for tamariki and rangatahi can help them to know that their previous caregiver wishes them well in their new placement.

When tamariki and rangatahi are in their new placement, they need to know that it is normal and acceptable for them to miss whānau or family or other caregivers or the place they have just left. They need to be given permission to grieve, and some short-term counselling might be really useful.

Social workers should encourage new caregivers to help tamariki and rangatahi vocalise and express their feelings and thoughts in whichever way feels right for them.

Considerations for tamariki and rangatahi in youth justice custody and their transitions

Tamariki and rangatahi in youth justice custody after appearing in the Youth Court or District Court are also required to have transition plans in place. These include tamariki and rangatahi remanded into youth justice residences and those in community remand homes or placements. Many of these tamariki and rangatahi will be returning home after being on remand in a youth justice residence or community remand home, or spending time in a drug or alcohol residential rehabilitation centre.

Custody of child or young person pending hearing — section 238(1)(d) of Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Some tamariki and rangatahi will be returning home or to their whānau or family or caregivers after having served sentences of supervision with activity, or supervision with residence orders.

These residential orders are generally followed by supervision orders with specific conditions for varying periods. These conditions need to be considered when formulating transition plans.

Supervision with residence order — section 311 of Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Custody order associated with drug or alcohol rehabilitation — section 297B(5) of Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Custody order associated with supervision with activity order — section 307(4) of Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Rangatahi who are subject to an order made under the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 can be placed in the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive in certain situations and will also require transition plans.

Remand of defendant — sections 173, 174 and 175(1A)(a) of Criminal Procedures Act 2011