Practitioners who work with rangatahi transitioning to independence
If rangatahi decide to remain or return to living with a caregiver, it is important to remember this is a voluntary situation for them. As they develop and grow into independent young adults, their circumstances and decisions may change regarding their living arrangements.
This guidance is written for Oranga Tamariki social workers who work with rangatahi or their caregivers.
When rangatahi are in care, Oranga Tamariki social workers lead the assessment and planning with them. This also occurs when they are preparing to leave care.
Rangatahi are allocated a transition worker, with their consent, when they turn 16, and the transition worker supports them and works with the social worker.
When rangatahi leave care or youth justice residential placements, transition workers will usually step in to lead the work with rangatahi, unless rangatahi choose not to work with a transition worker.
The caregiver social worker works with caregivers.
Telling rangatahi about their entitlements and responsibilities
When rangatahi turn 15 (or later, depending on when they become eligible), ensure they are aware they are entitled to remain living with a caregiver after they turn 18 and that if they do decide to leave their living arrangement with their caregiver, they can then return to live with a caregiver at any point up to their 21st birthday.
When you communicate this information to rangatahi, think carefully about how to support them to comprehend this information so it is clear for them. For example:
- keep reminding them (and their support people) of their entitlements to remain or return to care
- provide them with information in writing if you think this would be useful
- gauge their understanding by asking them to explain to you what their entitlements are.
Encourage rangatahi to think about their options and to make their decision about whether or not they would like to remain living with a caregiver at least 6 months before they turn 18 or leave care. This allows time for a robust plan to be developed to support the decision.
If they do not know or feel confident about their options, you can work through the pros and cons of each option with them.
- remaining with a caregiver might give a sense of security to those rangatahi already feeling overwhelmed by all of the changes in their life
- other rangatahi may feel ready to go out on their own if they know they can return to living with a caregiver if things don’t work out.
For rangatahi Māori, the principles of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whānaungatanga (whakamana te tamaiti) will be critical. Check with rangatahi if they want family/whānau or friends to be part of these discussions – their support can be invaluable, particularly when hard conversations need to be had.
Remain living with a caregiver
If rangatahi want to remain living with their current Oranga Tamariki caregiver
Social workers working with rangatahi need to talk to caregiver social workers about whether current caregivers for rangatahi are open to them remaining with them. Caregivers should be told about this possibility at the time of the caregiver assessment and also when rangatahi are placed with them.
If caregivers are keen to proceed, caregiver social workers needs to explain to them the legal and financial implications of taking on this role:
- Oranga Tamariki will no longer have custody of rangatahi but they do have an obligation to maintain contact with them.
- The caregiver will cease receiving board payments and will instead be paid directly by rangatahi unless there is good reason not to do so. The rangatahi will need to be supported to establish direct credit payments to the caregiver or to schedule regular cash payments.
- If rangatahi are living with a section 396 caregiver, social workers working with the caregiver provider need to ensure they have the right supports and information to share with rangatahi so they are fully aware of their entitlements to go on to live with a caregiver if agreed by both parties.
Caregiver social workers also need to make sure caregivers understand that rangatahi will likely need a different type of oversight than what they have been providing earlier. Their role is less about keeping rangatahi safe and more about helping rangatahi learn how to keep themselves safe.
If caregivers chooses not to provide ongoing care to rangatahi, social workers working with rangatahi need to talk about this with them in a sensitive manner. The caregiver should be part of this conversation if appropriate so that everyone knows where they stand.
If rangatahi want to return to live with Oranga Tamariki caregivers who have looked after them previously
Social workers working with rangatahi need to talk with their site’s caregiver social workers and ask them to see if the caregivers are open to rangatahi moving back in with them. If the caregivers are keen to proceed, refer to the above section for the next steps.
Even though rangatahi and caregivers can have history together, things may have changed since rangatahi were last with them so they need up-to-date information about rangatahi to make informed decisions about whether or not they can meet their needs. Ask rangatahi before you share this information. When time permits, rangatahi could take the lead role in pulling together this information and setting the scene for the caregiver.
If rangatahi want to live with a caregiver they have never lived with before
If rangatahi identify prospective caregivers from within their own networks (immediate or extended family/whānau, hapū or iwi or others known to them), social workers working with them need to ask their site’s caregiver social worker to complete a caregiver assessment with the prospective caregiver.
The caregiver social worker will ensure the prospective caregiver knows the financial and legal ramifications of taking on this role, and will share information with them about the needs and strengths of rangatahi.
Decisions on caregivers
It is important that living arrangements support the needs and aspirations of rangatahi and caregivers. A stable and healthy living arrangement is a critical way to support rangatahi to thrive and move towards independence. This can’t occur if living arrangements are likely to be, or are, detrimental to the wellbeing and safety of rangatahi or caregivers and other people in the household
If the caregiver social workers have safety concerns about prospective caregiver pathways through caregiver assessments, or they have formed an opinion that the living situation for rangatahi would be detrimental, assessments can be stopped or prospective caregivers can be denied approval. On rare occasions, this might occur for an existing approved caregiver.
The decision to stop an assessment or deny approval to a prospective caregiver can never be made lightly. When caregiver social workers have informed social workers working with rangatahi of their decisions, they need to think about how to share this news with rangatahi. It will likely come as a shock to them, and also may cause some worry as they wonder where they will live.
For all rangatahi, and expressly in the case for rangatahi Māori, the first consideration for care should always be with whakapapa whānau, hapū and iwi (those with whom rangatahi have bloodlines). This is a critical focus in our practice. Sometimes caregiver social workers have some concerns about family/whānau members, but they also recognise a greater likelihood of harm to the wellbeing of rangatahi if they aren’t living with this person. The caregiver social worker needs to weigh up the benefits against the risks, and put supports in place where they think this is needed.
If caregiver social workers still believe that rangatahi should not live with family/whānau members in question, social workers working with rangatahi need to come up with other ways that they can safely be a part of the lives of rangatahi. They need to connect them to the support network around rangatahi and encourage them to play a different role.
In this period of transition to adulthood, we can't stop rangatahi from living with family/whānau members, but where deemed necessary, decisions can be made to not support the living arrangement with a family/whānau member through the support payment. Such decisions are generally made by social workers, supervisors and site managers.
If rangatahi have not identified prospective caregivers and they are open to living with approved Oranga Tamariki caregivers, social workers working with rangatahi need to inform their supervisors and site managers, and get in touch with their site’s caregiver social workers to make caregiver requests. When they have identified some options, they need to share these with rangatahi so they can get a sense of whether the proposed living situation will suit them and meet their needs. They need to arrange meetings between rangatahi and potential caregivers to see how well they connect with each other.
The role of the caregiver in either of these situations is different to that of a caregiver looking after younger tamariki. They are more of a support and mentor or coach rather than a caregiver.
Return to living with a caregiver
If rangatahi want to live with Oranga Tamariki caregivers who have previously looked after them
Transition workers ask the caregiver social workers at the local Oranga Tamariki site to ask caregivers if rangatahi could come back to live with them. If caregivers are interested in this happening, caregiver social workers then talk through the financial and legal implications and share information about rangatahi and what has been going on for them since they were last in their care.
If caregivers are not able to take rangatahi, transition workers tells rangatahi and then work out some other options with them.
If rangatahi wants to live with an Oranga Tamariki caregiver who has never looked after them
Transition workers get in touch with caregiver social workers at their local Oranga Tamariki site to make a caregiver request. They need to provide caregiver social workers with information about rangatahi.
If rangatahi want to live with someone they have identified themselves
Transition workers ask the local Oranga Tamariki site to complete a caregiver assessment.
If rangatahi are determined to live with someone who has had their caregiver assessment declined, they can still seek financial assistance from Oranga Tamariki to support their accommodation costs.
Supporting the caregiver
All approved caregivers are allocated a caregiver social worker who will support them in their caregiving role.
Social workers and transition workers will also maintain good contact with the caregiver in order to ensure the living arrangement is working out and to iron out any issues that may arise.
Living arrangement agreements
When caregivers are on board, and rangatahi have had ample opportunity to meet and get to know them (if they were previously unknown to rangatahi), social workers then support rangatahi to develop living arrangements with their caregivers to apply once care orders are discharged. This is an arrangement between the rangatahi and caregiver that details:
- financial costs and responsibilities – what rangatahi will financially contribute to the household, what financial contribution Oranga Tamariki will make to the support arrangement through rangatahi, and what happens if payments to caregivers are late or missed or if rangatahi permanently leave the placement, for example, the payment to the caregiver will stop, or if rangatahi leave the placement to go on holiday, away for study or training or to live somewhere temporarily, such as when the payments start up again
- the duration of the living arrangement and a review date for assessing progress
- the support that caregivers will provide to help rangatahi become increasingly independent and continue building life skills
- an agreed standard of accommodation (at a minimum the house needs to be warm, dry and hygienic)
- ‘house rules’ regarding things such as curfews, chores, rights to privacy and what happens if there is conflict
- how caregivers will support rangatahi to build or maintain connections with whānau, hapū and iwi and their marae and wider community
- how caregivers will support rangatahi with their culture and identity, including their gender identity, sexual orientation, and spirituality or religion
- how caregivers will support and encourage rangatahi to develop their life skills, manage the effects of trauma, access relevant health and disability services, participate in sporting, recreational and community activities, and be in some form of education, training or employment.
The support social workers give rangatahi to develop this living arrangement depends on their skills and abilities:
- They may feel comfortable having this conversation alone with the caregiver.
- They may want you to sit alongside them as they lead the conversation.
- Social workers could offer to take notes or to write up the living arrangement and make sure everyone has a copy.
- Rangatahi might need some assistance — for example, social workers might explain that while they may be paid fortnightly, the living arrangement agreement lists payments as weekly.
Social workers also need to build into this living arrangement what assistance the caregiver may need. This can be added into the caregiver plan. If caregivers have only ever looked after very young tamariki before, then looking after a 19 year old could present some particular challenges. Remember that caregivers will also be supported by Oranga Tamariki caregiver social workers, who will visit them regularly.
When placement are new, social workers need to support rangatahi and caregivers to review the living arrangements regularly (at least once a month for the first 6 months) to make sure everything is working as planned and to deal with any issues as they arise. Ongoing reviews will also be needed for the duration of the placement. The suitability of the placement may also need to be reviewed if any changes happen for caregivers or rangatahi — for example, if rangatahi become pregnant and have babies.
When the rangatahi leave care, transition workers oversee and support rangatahi to meet the requirements in the living arrangement agreement and caregiver social workers support the caregivers and monitor the living arrangement.
How Oranga Tamariki can financially support the living arrangement
The financial assistance board contribution is paid directly to rangatahi who will be responsible for paying the full board cost to their caregivers. However, Oranga Tamariki can directly pay the caregiver at the request of rangatahi or if social workers (or transition workers) have concerns about how rangatahi manage their money. If rangatahi struggle with financial management, social workers or transition workers should support them by:
- enrolling them in a budgeting course
- sitting them down with their caregivers, members of their whānau, or someone else from their support networks to watch and learn how they budget and manage their finances
- giving them lots of ‘real world’ opportunities to practise and gain confidence in their abilities.
When Oranga Tamariki may withdraw financial assistance for a living arrangement
Oranga Tamariki can decide to withdraw financial assistance if it believes a living arrangement is detrimental to the wellbeing of rangatahi, and if rangatahi refuse to move to safer situations with other caregivers.
Social workers or transition workers could prevent things getting to this point by:
- checking in with rangatahi and caregivers regularly to notice anything that might be going off track
- talking with the support network around rangatahi to find out what they are seeing and hearing.
A living arrangement could be improved simply by reviewing the supports that the caregiver has in place, or setting up some services to meet previously unknown needs of rangatahi. Transition workers should support rangatahi in this process.
Independent living arrangement
Even when financial assistance for support arrangements are withdrawn, Oranga Tamariki can still support rangatahi with their accommodation costs. Rangatahi may also need support to approach Work and Income – it can be challenging to do this as an adult and rangatahi may not have the confidence or knowledge to ask for the available entitlements on their own.
Supporting rangatahi who are involved with the Department of Corrections
Some rangatahi who are entitled to return to care may be under an order managed by the Department of Corrections due to their offending before they turned 18. Others may have offended after they turned 18, received an adult community-based sentence or a sentence of imprisonment, and wish to return to the care of Oranga Tamariki.
For rangatahi in prison, transition workers needs to liaise with the relevant prison to arrange regular contact with rangatahi. This is to get to know them and help them work out a plan to transition to independence. They also need to talk to relevant case managers or probation officers working with rangatahi to get information about how rangatahi have been progressing. They can then share this information with prospective caregivers.
For rangatahi who are not in prison and who want to return to living with a caregiver, refer to the above section ‘If the rangatahi wants to remain living with their current Oranga Tamariki caregiver’.
It's also important to involve the relevant Corrections staff members in decision-making and planning.