Starting the conversation with rangatahi
From the age of 15, our conversations with rangatahi will naturally include discussions about their transition from care or from a youth justice residential placement.
We involve family/whānau, caregivers and other members of their support network in these conversations so that they know what’s happening and so they can give the support to rangatahi that they need.
We give rangatahi the time and space to adapt to the idea of leaving care or a youth justice residential placement, and we help them figure out what this transition means for them practically and emotionally. Rangatahi in our care will have already experienced a lot of trauma and upheaval in their short lives, so the sooner planning starts the better.
We also encourage and support rangatahi to express their views and take the lead in decision making and planning (whakamana te tamaiti). This is their life and they need to have a say in how it goes from here. The focus from the time they turn 15 is not solely about them developing life skills. It’s also about building their capabilities and enhancing their strengths. We should know the following:
- what their goals are
- what they want to achieve while they’re still in our care
- what they want to happen after they leave our care.
It’s important that we let rangatahi know about the transition service that’s provided by Oranga Tamariki. We need to share with them that Oranga Tamariki will be there to support them after they leave our care, including that we will:
- provide them with advice and assistance until they turn 25
- support them to remain or return to live with a caregiver until they turn 21
- proactively maintain contact with them until they turn 21.
In addition to talking rangatahi through their entitlements and the Transition to Adulthood service, we provide something in writing for them so they can consider what this may all look like for them in their own time. We need to keep checking in with them that they understand the service, their entitlements, what this means practically to them and how they will access more information. This should include explaining that if rangatahi go on to ask for advice and assistance, that they must consent to share information with us so we can determine their needs. We must acknowledge that provision of support by way of financial assistance can only occur if we have first considered what other financial assistance is available to rangatahi.
Matching rangatahi with a transition worker
We advise rangatahi that when they turn 16, with their consent, we will refer them to a local service who will match them with a transition worker.
Social workers are responsible for leading the assessment and planning for rangatahi until they leave care or turn 18.
Transition workers will work with social workers and rangatahi to:
- assist rangatahi to develop skills and knowledge
- build their confidence and connect them with opportunities to broaden their networks of support.
Once they turn 18 or leave our care, the transition worker will have the primary responsibility for maintaining contact with rangatahi and providing them with proactive support and assistance up until they turn 21.
Social workers and transition workers need to have clear channels of communication while working together to help rangatahi prepare to leave our care. Regular meetings and debriefings need to be scheduled so everyone is on the same page. Social workers and transition workers need to freely share information between themselves about how rangatahi are progressing and what needs to happen next.
If there isn’t a transition worker available an Oranga Tamariki social worker will take on the responsibility of maintaining contact with rangatahi until their 21st birthday.
Introducing the transition worker
Social workers need to give some thought about how to best introduce transition workers to rangatahi. They will have already shared with rangatahi what the role of transition workers are and how they will work together with them, but social workers may want to remind rangatahi about this before setting up any face-to-face meetings.
Generally it would make sense for social workers to be at the first meetings to facilitate the conversations and to help rangatahi feel more comfortable. Social workers may want to have a series of meetings before rangatahi feel safe to meet their transition workers on their own – although one meeting may be enough for some rangatahi.
Let rangatahi decide where and when the meetings should be held and check with them if they want anyone else to attend. They might feel happier having their caregivers or a friend with them.
Reviewing custody arrangements
As part of preparing for their transition from care, socials workers need to explore the options available to rangatahi and find an arrangement that works for their particular situation (if the current arrangement doesn’t).
Another option could be considering shifting to a support order rather than continuing the custody order. While this will remove the ability of Oranga Tamariki to provide board payments to caregivers as rangatahi will no longer be under a care or custody order, alternative funding to meet their reasonable needs could be achieved through other means, such as via agreement at a family group conference. The court would be required to sanction any change in orders. Before that occurred, the court appointed lawyer would be able to give rangatahi independent advice and would be required to provide views of rangatahi to the court.
A shift from a custody order to a support order before the age of 18 does not affect the eligibility of rangatahi to return to live with a caregiver from the age of 18 up to 21 if they have already met the eligibility criteria for the entitlement to remain or return living with a caregiver. If it does affect the Transition to Adulthood entitlement to remain or return living with a caregiver, then careful consideration should be given to suitable living arrangements from 18 years of age.
Spending time building a solid and enduring support network around rangatahi
Relationships with key supportive adults, including family/whānau, hapū and iwi, are essential for all rangatahi. Strong, supportive, positive relationships will help rangatahi build resilience and ease their transition from care. These relationships also provide rangatahi with the emotional and practical support they need after they leave care.
Social workers need to spend time working with rangatahi to build their support networks so there are people who will be available to offer their time, advice and support to rangatahi as they transition and once they leave care. Even when rangatahi want to live independently and feel ready to do so, they need people they trust and can relate to, and who will be there for them no matter what.
One or two key relationships are not enough — our rangatahi need a network around them, just like any other rangatahi in New Zealand. Help rangatahi develop and sustain relationships with:
- family/whānau, hapū and iwi — talk with your kairaranga about how to make some of these connections if they’re not already in place
- current and possibly previous caregiving families
- significant adults to mentor and provide guidance to rangatahi (or become formal additional guardians), once they’re no longer in the custody of the Oranga Tamariki chief executive
- significant people for rangatahi within their community, such as friends from sport, cultural, hobby or religious groups.
They’ll also have their transition worker as part of their support network while they’re preparing to leave our care and once they have left our care.
For rangatahi Māori, engagement with their wider network of support – either whakapāpā whānau (blood whānau) or kaupapa whānau (extended whānau friends and community network) – will be essential in reinforcing strong relationships as they transition towards independence (self-determination).
Exploring their involvement with family/whānau
The transition period is a good time to explore with rangatahi what kind of involvement they wish to have with family/whānau members, particularly if previous or current interactions have been/are difficult.
While rangatahi may not wish to live with a particular family/whānau member, or the adult may not be able to provide a safe care environment, that family/whānau member may still be able to offer rangatahi some other type of support.
Social workers can practice with rangatahi how they might broach potentially challenging conversations, such as how to say no if they don’t want contact with a family/whānau member or how to make contact in a way that is emotionally safe.
Over the course of our involvement with tamariki and rangatahi in our care, we will be constantly assessing their needs — this doesn’t stop once they start transitioning from our care to independence.
In fact, their level of need may increase during this period of time as they come to terms with the changes ahead, while also still dealing with the impacts of traumatic experiences.
As well as needs, the strengths, aspirations, wishes and goals will also be considered in the assessment of rangatahi.
Social workers will use the Tuituia Assessment Framework to guide their assessments of rangatahi. This will include Life Skills Assessments which identify where rangatahi may need support in their transition to independence.
Developing life skills to live independently
A big part of getting rangatahi ready to leave care is about ensuring they have the life skills they need to live independently. This is a process that won’t happen overnight and can’t be done with social workers and rangatahi alone.
The support network, particularly people rangatahi are living with, can offer lots of opportunities for rangatahi to practice life skills and build their knowledge and confidence.
Oranga Tamariki has developed guidance around assessing life skills:
Making a plan
Once social workers have assessed the needs, strengths and risks for rangatahi, including their life skills, they will meet with them and others to make a plan to:
- meet the identified needs (including areas of life skill development)
- build on their strengths
- mitigate risks.
First and foremost, plans need to reflect the goals and aspirations of rangatahi and chart how and who will help them get there. Rangatahi will lead this planning process, with support from their social workers.
While plans for rangatahi focus on looking forward, social workers need to remember any risks that still exist now or ones that are likely to emerge in the life of rangatahi as they get older. For example, at this particular stage of life, rangatahi may start engaging with family/whānau that they haven’t had much contact with in the past and this can bring up risks for them around managing difficult relationships and keeping themselves safe.
Planning for the transition will usually happen at a family group conference. Social workers review the plan at least once a year, with the last review happening 6 months before rangatahi leave care. In the rare event that a family group conference is not the right fit, a planning meeting or hui-a-whānau will be held to develop plans for rangatahi.
Rangatahi will attend alongside members of their support network, their caregivers, friends, family/whānau and professionals who may be able to offer some assistance.
Social workers are responsible for ensuring there are current, relevant plans for rangatahi, and that they’re in formats that can be easily passed on to (and understood) by transition workers when they move into their role supporting rangatahi after they leave care or a youth justice residential placement and transition to independence.
The rangatahi will always have a copy of their plan, written in a way that makes sense to them.