Transitioning to independence
We want rangatahi to develop their knowledge and skills so that when it is time for them to transition into independence, they have the right kinds of skills, abilities and support networks in place to do this safely.
Rangatahi become eligible for transition services if they have been in care for at least three months consecutively after the age of 14 years and 9 months. This includes youth justice rangatahi who have been placed on remand or sentenced to a s311 Order.
For rangatahi in care or custody (including an extended care order under section 140(1)(d) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989), family group conferences will be held at least once a year after the rangatahi has turned 15, with the third conference held six months before they leave care. This is to make sure all considerations are accounted for by the time they leave care.
When rangatahi are 17 years old and in care due to care and protection concerns, and have never had a family group conference to plan for their transition from care to independence, social workers should refer them for a conference straight away. At a minimum, they should make sure that a family group conference is held six months before their 18th birthday.
Who is involved
This guidance is for Oranga Tamariki social workers and coordinators working with rangatahi.
Coordinators support rangatahi to take a lead role in the family group conference – this is their life and their plan and they need support to take ownership of this in a way that feels comfortable to them.
Care and protection coordinators hold the family group conference if there is a care status for the rangatahi under Part 2 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, even if the rangatahi has offended. The purpose of the family group conference is to consider how to support the transition of the rangatahi out of care to independence. It is part of the review of the section 128 plan under section 135(4).
If the rangatahi has offended and the only care status is custody under Part 4 or Part 5 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, then a youth justice coordinator could hold the family group conference.
If a transition worker is working with a rangatahi, get together with them and the rangatahi to decide on each other’s roles and responsibilities.
How to hold a transition family group conference
1 Meet with the rangatahi before you refer for a family group conference
Oranga Tamariki social workers should meet with rangatahi and their support people to explain the role of the family group conference and its purpose in helping them to plan for their transition from care to independence (including reviewing any existing relevant information collected as part of previous family group conferences).
Oranga Tamariki social workers should work with the coordinators at this early stage to help answer any questions about the family group conference process.
Most rangatahi will likely have attended a family group conference in the past and some may have negative feelings attached to their experience. Social workers need to explain to rangatahi what the conference will look like and be clear with them that this is their conference and it is about their life so their voice in the process matters. They need to help them be realistic about what the conference can achieve and to understand their role in making it a success.
It is not a legal requirement for coordinators to facilitate the conference. Social workers can offer rangatahi the chance to do this if they are comfortable to do so – it can be a leadership opportunity and a way for them to take charge of the process. Social workers (or someone else) can assist rangatahi in this role on the day. Alternatively, rangatahi may suggest someone else who they would like to take this lead.
When rangatahi want coordinators to facilitate the conference and they haven’t already met, Oranga Tamariki social workers should talk with them about how they would like to meet coordinators for the first time. Rangatahi may be comfortable doing this alone or they might want their social workers or someone else to attend.
2 Make a referral for the family group conference
Oranga Tamariki social workers make the referral for the conference using the same referral form they would use for a family group conference being held to address care and protection concerns. There is space in the referral form for them to add in any extra headings and details they think will be useful.
Social workers should talk to coordinators at their site about any other information they will need to accept the referral (such as the most up-to-date Tuituia assessment) and convene the conference.
3 Decide who will attend the family group conference
The people who are entitled to attend the conference are:
- their lawyer
- their social worker
- their coordinator
- their current caregiver
- their parents, guardians and members of their family/whānau and family group.
Coordinators are required to consult with all of these people.
If rangatahi already have transition workers, they play a critical role in the Family Group Conference process and support any plan developed with rangatahi.
In planning, the wishes of rangatahi need to be considered, and they can suggest other people who they would like to be invited such as their transition workers, their caregivers, friends and members of their support network. Coordinators will talk with rangatahi about who they would like to attend and together they will agree the role of these other people at the family group conference.
Coordinators should also check with rangatahi to see if there are family/whānau or others that they specifically do not want to attend the conference, and they need to find out the reasons why rangatahi may feel this way. There may be family/whānau members who present a risk to the safety of rangatahi and these people may be excluded by the coordinator.
When the participants are decided, it is the coordinator’s responsibility to make contact with each of them to explain the purpose of the conference as some may never have attended a family group conference so won’t know how it all works. They need to cover how it will run and the importance of their role in supporting rangatahi in their transition to independence.
Even if rangatahi do not want their parents or guardians to attend, coordinators need to make that final decision. If the decision is that they not attend, the coordinator will discuss the rationale for this decision with the parent or guardian and will at least ensure they know the conference is happening and ask them for their views.
4 Hold planning meetings and engage with the rangatahi and their family/whānau
Once referrals are made, Oranga Tamariki social workers need to meet with their supervisors and coordinators to talk about what is happening with rangatahi and what the proposed plan for their transition from care to independence might look like. In this conversation, it’s important that they consider the long-term needs of rangatahi, their wellbeing and their support networks. They should also consult with and include transition workers if allocated for rangatahi.
Coordinators convene or set up the conference, and they do this by talking with rangatahi and their family/whānau to confirm a date, time and place to hold the conference. They also determine the way the conference may be opened and closed and any special features that they may want. It is important that coordinators ask rangatahi for their ideas and views about opening and closing the conference – they may want to take a lead on this if their whānau are comfortable supporting them to do this.
Before the conference, social workers should discuss with rangatahi how things might happen and what feels most comfortable for them. They need to help them consider and identify things that are important to them, and what they feel they need as they transition to independence. This will inform discussions about their aspirations and needs at their family group conference. Social workers may need more than one meeting with rangatahi to discuss and develop these ideas for their plan.
Just before any conference is held, Oranga Tamariki social workers and their supervisors need to meet with the coordinators. This to check that everyone is happy with the key ideas proposed for a plan for rangatahi. If there are financial needs attached to the proposals, they need to make sure this has been discussed and agreed with their budget managers.
The ideas should include but not be limited to:
- living situation
- health and wellbeing
- culture and whānau connections, including links to hapu, iwi and marae for rangatahi Māori
- peer and community connections
- legal considerations
- financial support
- life skills to be attained (based on their life skills assessment)
- documents (such as birth certificate, passport, IRD number).
Oranga Tamariki social workers need to ensure the key ideas discussed for the proposed plan provide detail around particular tasks that need to be completed and who will complete these. For example, in terms of connecting the rangatahi with their whānau, a task might be for their caregiver to take them to their marae to start the journey of exploring their whakapapa or ensure that they are registered with their iwi. Another example might be that rangatahi want to enrol in a course of study and their social worker will work with them to complete the application form, go with them on a tour of the campus and make sure they know the student support services available to them.
It is the social worker’s responsibility to ensure that a proposed plan is developed with rangatahi to bring to the family group conference for consideration.
If Oranga Tamariki social workers believe there may be some things that might get in the way of agreeing to a plan on the day, they may hold a family meeting or hui-a-whānau before the conference. This can be a safe space for people to raise concerns or to share information, and means that any issues can be ironed out so that when the conference is held, a plan can be easily created without these issues or concerns getting in the way of some good outcomes.
A family meeting or hui-a-whānau could be useful if rangatahi are disconnected from their whānau and there is room to do some work to build that connection, or if there are few options for their living situation and there is a need to bring people together to brainstorm some ideas. Coordinators could also attend these hui to explain the family group conference process.
Professionals meeting for disability or mental health needs
If rangatahi have disabilities or mental health needs, social workers need to meet with relevant professionals to talk about the needs of rangatahi as they transition. They need to make sure all of the relevant services (and any new services identified) are involved and that people understand what is being planned for rangatahi. This meeting is particularly important when there is only one more conference to be held before rangatahi turn 18, as their plan will need to cover how to move rangatahi across to adult mental health and disability services.
5 Hold the family group conference
The cultural background of rangatahi is important for how the conference is run. For rangatahi Māori, social workers and coordinators need to make sure that they, or someone at the conference, is able to support any tikanga (such as karakia and mihi) which rangatahi may consider to be important.
Each conference is unique to each rangatahi but there are some key things that each conference may include:
- Whakawhanaungatanga – welcome, open the conference, introductions
- Celebrate the achievements and strengths of rangatahi
- Review the previous plan (if this isn’t the first family group conference held to plan the transition of rangatahi from care to independence)
- Hear from information givers (in some cases it might be useful for representatives from specific services – current and/or new – to come to the beginning of the conference and give a presentation about what their service offers or the work they are doing with rangatahi and what they see as needing more work and what they can offer moving forward. Make sure they are ready to explain this in a way that rangatahi can understand)
- Presentation of the proposed plan (rangatahi may do this or ask someone to do this on their behalf)
- Family time
- Agree the plan
- Agree the review timeframe
- Close the conference.
Family time may not be needed at each family group conference that is held but it does need to be offered. Family time could be helpful in situations where there are a number of different living options for rangatahi, and they want time with their family and others close to them to review these options and get their help to make a decision. Family time could also be used when the conference is being held but the preferences of rangatahi are still developing for their plan. In these situations, coordinators might give rangatahi and others some time together to mull over some key questions that rangatahi might still be working through, such as:
- What are my future goals?
- What do I see myself doing as a career?
- Where would I live if I could live anywhere?
The answers can be used to formulate the more formal makings of a plan which can be further developed when everyone comes back together.
While a big part of the focus of the conference will be on the transitional needs of rangatahi (how with support they’ll keep themselves safe, build their life skills, access services) – if there are other needs to be met around past trauma and abuse or due to their offending behaviour, these will be addressed in the plan as well.
Oranga Tamariki social workers and coordinators should keep an eye on rangatahi throughout the conference to check if they’re feeling uncomfortable, tired or need a break. They might also want to identify who else in the room is also able to continue to check on the wellbeing of rangatahi throughout the conference. These can be intense conversations for rangatahi and simply taking a break may help them to engage in these decisions with greater confidence and clarity.
6 After the family group conference
Following family group conferences, Oranga Tamariki social workers check that rangatahi understand the firmed-up plan, what needs to be done and who is doing what. If there is already a transition worker allocated, this should be done in conjunction with them.
Rangatahi also need to have a copy of their plan to refer to, and social workers then work with rangatahi to follow through with the tasks as outlined in their plan with the support of the transition worker if one has been allocated. If rangatahi are leaving care sooner rather than later, there may be fewer tasks to complete and rangatahi may have more tasks to lead as responsibilities shift.
Reviewing the plan
Every plan will have a review date set before the conference ends. The plan will be reviewed through a family group conference at least once every 12 months but there may be times when there is a need to review more frequently, particularly where situations for rangatahi are in a state of flux.
Once rangatahi turn 18, it is the responsibility of their transition workers to review the plan through whichever planning mechanism they and rangatahi deem fit.