Urgent, collaborative action is needed
When working with tamariki with offending behaviours, we act with urgency. Addressing emerging offending behaviour earlier can have a significant impact on the whole-of-life wellbeing of that tamaiti, as well as reducing victims of crime. This requires:
- a collaborative and coordinated response
- a dedicated Multidisciplinary Team approach that includes Police, the Family Court lawyer, educational specialists, health and mental health clinicians and community agencies
- strong government and community partnerships working collectively to draw on existing resources and build new service responses.
Taking a considered rights-based approach
Our practice framework guides our work with tamariki and whānau or family. Ngākau whakairo is the heart of our work embedded in our practice and recognises and upholds the inherent rights of tamariki and whānau or family, as well as considering the rights of victims of offending. In addition, Aotearoa New Zealand follows the principles outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRoC). UNCRoC is a comprehensive international treaty that outlines the rights of children and provides a framework for their protection and wellbeing.
Victims' interests are also protected through the section 14(1)(e) process via sections 13 and 208 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, where we give consideration to the views of victims. These rights sit at the heart of our practice with tamariki with offending behaviours.
We take considered and appropriate actions to:
- support the holistic needs of the whole whānau or family in a relational and inclusive way
- ensure the participation of victims towards a restorative outcome
- hold tamariki accountable
- focus on reducing the risk of further harm in terms of offending behaviour.
We maintain mana tamaiti (tamariki) by:
- ensuring their voice is heard
- explaining what is happening to them and why in a way that they understand
- ensuring that the family, whānau, hapū, iwi and family group can participate in supporting tamariki through interventions and in the restorative process.
What the research tells us
There are almost always care or protection concerns when we look at tamariki who offend, with reports of concern often indicating abuse, adversity and trauma. When compared with tamariki not involved in offending behaviours, there is a significantly higher likelihood that tamariki who offend have a history of stand downs and expulsion from school and have experienced multiple out-of-home placements and cultural and social hardship.
The research found that opportunities to help these tamariki may be missed due to:
- poor engagement with whānau or family who had often experienced intergenerational systemic failure and harm
- poor coordination between services
- delays in responding to needs, or needs not being unidentified (such as health, mental health or neurodiversity)
- lack of culturally centred responses
- poorly implemented plans
- lack of resources.
Protective factors included:
- positive parenting, mentoring and positive role models and peer groups
- engagement in education and skill building
- community support
- connection with culture and identity
- early intervention programmes.
There is a small number of tamariki with offending behaviours who, if their needs are not addressed, are more likely to become serious and persistent offenders often into adulthood. It is therefore critical that we apply a coordinated response at the earliest opportunity.
Working with tamariki Māori and their whānau
We seek out support and have conversations with colleagues in Māori specialist roles (Kairaranga ā-whānau, Kaiarataki, Kaiwhakaako, Kaiwhakaato) to gain deeper levels of understanding of how Te Toka Tūmoana takepū are applied in everyday ways by tāngata whenua. This supports us to incorporate them into meaningful engagement with tamariki when we are talking with them about the offending behaviours.
Working with Pacific children and their family
We are guided by our cultural practice tool, Va'aifetū, which is a practical guide for integrating Pacific cultures into practice in pursuit of best outcomes for children of Pacific descent. We use the ethnic-specific approaches of the island nations represented in Va'aifetū throughout our practice with children and with families who are impacted by their children offending. The best interests of the Pacific child are met when we also seek out support from colleagues, Pacific advisors and others with the relevant knowledge to ensure we understand and practise relationally with the child and their family.
What accountability looks like for tamariki with offending behaviours
Accountability is important in addressing offending behaviours, but it is not the same as being punitive. Accountability primarily aims to help tamariki understand the consequences and impact of their actions, support personal growth and oranga and reduce the likelihood of further offending. It is important for tamariki to have consequences that:
- focus on learning and working towards restoring oranga for tamariki, their whānau or family and any victims of the offending
- are appropriate for their age and understanding
- consider any disability, neurodiversity or cognitive impairments
- are proportionate to the offending.
We incorporate restorative justice principles and focus on repairing harm caused by the offending behaviours. Everyone who has been impacted needs to be supported to be involved in finding resolutions, including the whānau or family, the victim and the community.
We use therapeutic interventions to address underlying care or protection concerns that contribute to the offending behaviours. It is vital we consider the ethnicity and culture of the whānau or family when we recommend appropriate interventions that meet these needs. Interventions may include counselling, family therapy (such as Multi Systemic Therapy (MST) or Family Functional Therapy (FFT)), and programmes aimed at building emotional and social skills.
Age, remorse and accountability in relation to interventions
Remorse and empathy in tamariki who offend can be influenced by their age and the development of their brain. Brain development plays a crucial role in shaping cognitive abilities, emotional regulation and moral reasoning, which are all linked to the expression of remorse and empathy. Trauma can also impact brain development and affect the ability to emotionally regulate.
Interventions should consider the stage of brain development and address cognitive and emotional challenges while developing remorse and empathy (which may need to be understood within different cultural contexts). Therapy, counselling and interventions that target emotional regulation, social skills and moral development can be helpful in growing empathy, remorse and resilience in tamariki with offending behaviours.
Early intervention is key to prevention
Early intervention can lead to significant improvements in oranga and prevent further and long-term offending. Early intervention can:
- address the impact of past trauma, such as abuse and neglect
- offer immediate support for whānau or families who are often struggling to manage these behaviours
- teach useful coping strategies and skills and build resilience.
The Joint Family Group Conference Protocol for Children Who Offend between the Police and Oranga Tamariki identifies early intervention pathways to provide support for tamariki and whānau or family to address further offending.
We consider using existing meetings, such as through Youth Community Teams (YCT) or Local Coordination or Multi-Agency Teams (such as Kotahi te Whakaaro) that employ a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) approach using the Fast Track protocol (an immediate response approach). Case consults with care and protection kaimahi and pre-family group conference consults with other professionals provide opportunities to come together to discuss and look at options to support tamariki and whānau or family through Fresh Start contracts, Whānau Ora or other community contracts.
We need to understand that the root causes of offending behaviours often lie within care or protection concerns and this is where we need to focus our practice in building understanding – for example, family dynamics, trauma, substance abuse or financial hardship. Each approach or intervention should be:
- tailored to the tamariki and their whānau or family and their strengths, needs and risk of harm
- driven by a comprehensive and holistic assessment.
Holistic assessment helps our understanding
We use an oranga lens and apply our practice framework to build a comprehensive and holistic understanding of what is happening for the whānau or family, including siblings. We have an opportunity to think holistically about the needs of all within the whānau or family, with a particular focus on the needs of sibling groups, recognising cycles of younger siblings often emulating the offending behaviour of older siblings.
We identify the underlying causes as well as the impact of the offending behaviour of tamariki on whānau or family, victims and the community. This includes developing an understanding of the impact of the whānau or family history – for example, parents or siblings involved in offending increases the likelihood of further offending for tamariki, while the environmental context (such as poverty, housing and unemployment) can also have an impact. Tamariki involved in offending behaviours often do so within the context of complex intergenerational trauma and complex whānau or family issues, which we need to understand to support their needs.
We also identify protective factors like opportunities for positive engagement and belonging in the community. Understanding the context and environment in which the offending occurs helps us to look at ways to reduce the risk of further harm of offending and work towards achieving oranga.
To understand and work towards oranga, we work with tamariki and their whānau or family to:
- consider their risks and worries, along with our risks and worries and those of other professionals
- understand their hopes, ideas and goals (both short term and long term).
Applying the practice framework to build a better understanding
Ngākau whakairo – rights, values and professional obligations
- How can we support parents or caregivers to ensure tamariki are safe and not at risk of harm (for example, with further offending behaviours)?
- How do we balance competing rights and consider the rights of tamariki, their whānau or family, the victim and the community?
- What is needed to strengthen, maintain and enhance the mana and whakapapa of tamariki and their whānau or family?
- What are the whānau or family relationships and living situation like and how do they support and impact on the tamariki and their whānau or family, including any siblings?
Whai mātauranga – the pursuit of knowledge and understanding
- What are the voices (opinions, wishes, hopes) of the tamariki and their family, whānau, hapū, iwi or family group?
- How are we balancing competing views and voices, such as victims and professionals?
- How are we drawing on evidence-based approaches, including cultural approaches in building our plans?
Whai oranga – the pursuit of wellbeing
- What models of practice have we applied?
- Which takepū have we applied from that model?
- How has an oranga frame helped build an understanding of enduring safety (short term and long term), wellbeing and belonging for the tamariki?
Whai pūkenga – the pursuit of practice skills
- How can relational, inclusive and restorative practice help us respond to the complexities in this case?
- Have we identified any barriers or gaps?
- What would help us moving forward?
- What restorative actions have been undertaken, or need to occur, for the tamariki, their whānau or family and the victim to support everyone's focus on the oranga of the tamariki?
- Have we identified any skills that may help us understand the situation? Do we need any skills building or resources?
Whai ākona – the pursuit of best practice
- Are we using reflexive practice to explore ourselves and understand how our own experiences, world views, mātauranga, attitudes, values and emotions influence our mahi with tamariki and their whānau or family?
- Are we using supervision, mentoring, coaching and specialist knowledge (like cultural advisors) where appropriate to support our mahi with tamariki and their whānau or family?
A holistic assessment ensures that all decisions and interventions consider the developmental stage, needs and right to a safe and nurturing environment of tamariki within the context of their whakapapa.
How pathways under section 14(1)(e) grounds get initiated
1. Referral to a family group conference
Only an enforcement officer (usually the Police) can make a referral for a family group conference under section 18(3) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 if they believe that the alleged offending behaviours meet sufficient number, nature or magnitude criteria, or under section 14(1)(e) grounds. A family group conference is then held under section 247(a).
Immediate response and arranging a whānau or family meeting
Early intervention with whānau or family and immediate action are needed when we receive a referral for a family group conference under section 14(1)(e) grounds. Once the referral consultation between the youth justice coordinator and Police has occurred:
- the social worker starts working with the whānau or family to understand their circumstances and address the safety needs of the tamariki
- a whānau or family meeting is held within 7 days – this is to ensure early support is provided to help the whānau or family create safety to prevent further offending leading up to the family group conference.
We work with parents or caregivers to address their own trauma and any substance abuse and interpersonal needs, and enable them to develop more effective strategies for the appropriate care and safe supervision of their tamariki. Relational practice includes tamariki coming together with key whānau or family members, providing space and opportunity to come up with solutions and identify any supports needed to keep te tamaiti and the community safe from further alleged offending behaviour, and working towards a restorative process through the family group conference.
Important decisions that come out of a whānau or family meeting
We ensure the whānau or family know the purpose of the meeting – to share and understand the concerns around the alleged offending behaviours and the impact this has had on tamariki, their whānau or family and any victims, especially if the victims are within the whānau or family. Further, as cultural connectivity serves as a protective factor, this provides an opportunity for wider whānau or whakapapa research.
It is important that the whānau or family do not confuse the whānau or family meeting with the family group conference – be clear on the purpose of each.
We work with the whānau or family to consider:
- creating an interim whānau support agreement that is focused on safety planning to support the oranga of te tamaiti and their whānau or family until the family group conference is held – the agreement covers:
- the immediate needs of the whānau or family, like food or housing
- the natural supports for the whānau or family that can be built on
- the support needed to prevent further offending
- what te tamaiti and their whānau can expect to happen if further offending does occur
- how we gather information for holistic assessment
- who needs to be involved (such as wider whānau or family, hapū, iwi or other significant people)
- who holds the most significant relationships with te tamaiti and how we will work together with te tamaiti
- how we prioritise referrals for assessments (such as health, education, drug and alcohol).
In preparation for the family group conference, we consider a hui ā-whānau to support the whānau or family to develop their plan.
2. Progressing matters to the Family Court under section 14(1)(e) grounds
An enforcement officer may decide that the most appropriate action is an application in the Family Court on section 14(1)(e) grounds:
Following a family group conference that has been held under section 14(1)(e) grounds
Any decision to proceed to the Family Court after the family group conference should be signalled by Police at the family group conference.
If there has been further offending after a referral to a family group conference has been made, the Police may decide to proceed with matters in the Family Court.
However, this will first be relayed to the supervisor and/or youth justice or site manager, who will be guided by the social worker's assessment. We will explore further supports or alternatives to orders in the Family Court that can address further risk of harm, including an understanding of the strengths, risks and protective factors of the tamariki and whānau or family. We act with urgency to bring people back together, particularly whānau when reoffending occurs. This could also include reconvening the family group conference, if appropriate. The Police may still decide to make an application in the Family Court. Our assessment will determine our next steps and provide a rationale for any decisions made with the whānau or family.
Without a referral to a family group conference
If the Police decide to proceed directly to the Family Court, this will be communicated with the youth justice or site manager. Then:
- a social worker is immediately allocated to undertake an assessment with the whānau or family
- we file a Notice of Intention to Appear so we can understand the risk and safety concerns and provide a response to the court regarding those concerns. This could be a memo to court on our assessment of safety in the home along with any plans to support, or consideration given to a parallel application if appropriate.
When we consider applications in the Family Court
We explore the care or protection needs underlying the offending behaviours, as well as balancing accountability for the offending using the least restrictive means. We try to keep tamariki with their whānau or family with intensive support in the first instance. When the care or protection of tamariki requires support and supervision by working alongside the whānau or family, who may require assistance to provide safe care, a section 91 support order allows focus on support and supervision. We consider additional conditions together with a section 91 support order if an element of monitoring may be necessary until safety and stability can be established in the home.
Using additional conditions (section 96) to reduce reoffending
If the court grants an order (for example, under section 91 or 92) directing that support be provided to te tamaiti, we explore the most effective and age-appropriate use of additional conditions to reduce the likelihood of further offending.
Additional conditions should also be discussed with the Police – we need to factor in information such as any alternative action plans and other services that may have been accessed or tried to be accessed. In addition, as the Police have a focus on safety for the community, the information they provide is useful for planning any additional conditions supporting safety for the tamariki and their whānau or family, as well as the community.
Additional conditions may include:
- bail conditions in the Youth Court that address the risk of harm of further offending by specifying where tamariki can live or cannot live, and anyone they may not have contact with (such as their offending peer group)
- ensuring that the parent or guardians or other person responsible for the day-to-day care of the tamariki tells the support person if there is a change in address – this is especially important over holiday periods, which are times of heightened risk
- attendance at a specified educational, recreational, instructional, cultural or work programme, sporting activities, or other activity as required (with the consent of tamariki)
- attendance at appointments such as a psychological assessment, counselling or therapy (with the consent of a parent or guardian, not being the Oranga Tamariki chief executive)
- enabling the support person, at all reasonable times, to visit and enter the building or place in which the tamariki are living
- any other conditions that may support the tamariki and their whānau or family to reduce the further risk of harm from offending behaviours, such as increased or more frequent monitoring in the Family Court.
Where an application has been made for a care or protection order, interim support orders can be granted (for example, under section 92) but they are not limited to custody or support – for example, we consider service orders or anything else that responds to the needs of tamariki and their whānau or family while waiting for a decision from the Family Court.
- immediate support and the level needed to provide access to support services for the tamariki and their whānau or family – these services may include parenting support, support with substance abuse or addictions, health and/or mental health support, education, and housing assistance
- long-term planning – develop long-term plans for the oranga of the tamariki and their whānau or family with a focus on creating a stable and nurturing environment, including engagement in education.
An agreement will be made at the family group conference about reviewing any orders in the Family Court to be more responsive to the needs of tamariki and their whānau or family and support safety and stability in the home.
When orders are granted in the Family Court
Where applications have been made and granted without a family group conference, opportunities should still be created to promote whānau or family decision-making.
When orders have been granted in the Family Court, we are responsible for monitoring the progress of the plan, including monitoring any additional conditions. After an order is granted, a consult facilitated by the youth justice practice leader and including all relevant parties should occur as soon as practicable. We consider how to review and monitor the plan to be more responsive to the needs of tamariki and whānau or family, using a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to support their needs.
Collaborative and multidisciplinary team approach responding to needs and providing support
The need for a multidisciplinary approach
Care and protection and youth justice kaimahi work together, instead of independently of each other, alongside education, health and mental health professionals, Police, cultural advisors, community agencies and the Family Court – using a multidisciplinary approach.
A collaborative and multidisciplinary approach is vital to ensure safety and support that responds to the needs of tamariki and whānau or family. This is especially important in terms of developing, implementing and monitoring a plan with tamariki and whānau or family. A multidisciplinary team should be established as soon as practicable.
Where existing relationships and meetings have been established, such as Youth Community Teams (YCT), Multidisciplinary Teams (MDT), or Local Coordination or Multi-Agency Teams, it is likely that these tamariki would have been referred to the team at some point. Having a consult or discussion with a representative from the YCT, MDT or community table to access the information, including interventions tried or any past successes, can inform future interventions and plans.
Youth justice and care protection need to work collaboratively
When there has been a section 14(1)(e) referral from the Police and there is current or recent care and protection involvement, or where the Police make an application in the Family Court under section 14(1)(e) along with other section 14(1) grounds:
- an internal consult should be held as soon as practicable
- the consult is initiated by the youth justice coordinator (for a family group conference referral) or the youth justice social worker or supervisor (for an application in the Family Court) and facilitated by the youth justice practice leader.
In the consult, we explore and clarify roles and responsibilities and:
- explore ways to avoid overwhelming the whānau or family with multiple professionals visiting the home
- coordinate family group conferences and determine how plans align, if applicable, to avoid family group conference fatigue for tamariki and whānau or family
- decide how often consults should occur (weekly, if stability has not been achieved)
- keep regular and updated communication with each other.
Care and protection and youth justice kaimahi are experts in their respective fields. We pool our expertise, knowledge and resources to support the unique needs of these tamariki and their whānau or family towards realising oranga.
This is particularly important if there are younger siblings who are at risk of imitating or are adversely impacted by the offending behaviours of older siblings. This can be a strong motivator for whānau or family to access and accept support. Interventions need to consider the needs of the whole whānau or family, including siblings.