Court plans — Policy

Updated: 01 April 2017

What's Important To Us

In the majority of situations issues of care and safety will be managed through a family/whānau agreement or a family group conference decision or plan.

However when a mokopuna is considered to be in need of care and/or protection and that need cannot be met through implementation of a family group conference decision or plan, the social worker will place the matters before the Family Court for resolution.

When the Court makes a declaration it is important to have a court plan that addresses the needs of the mokopuna and assists the family to understand the steps the adults must take. A court plan must be clear, outcomes-focused, and involve mokopuna and whānau as much as possible.

This policy outlines the process and content requirements for creating good court plans. It does not detail the end-to-end process of filing applications, affidavits, plans, reports and recommending a discharge of orders in the family court.

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Where a court plan is needed

Where there is a belief that a mokopuna is in need of care and/or protection the social worker must make a referral for FGC. If the FGC agrees that Court orders are necessary or if the FGC is not able to reach agreement, the social worker makes an application for a declaration that mokopuna is in need of care and/or protection to the family court and files an affidavit in support. Once the declaration has been granted, the social worker must file a social work report and a plan to the court. A plan is not required in all cases but will be required if a services order, a support order, a custody order, a special guardianship order or a sole guardianship order is being proposed. Oranga Tamariki policy requires that the report and plan are filed within 28 days of the declaration having been made. The court will decide whether the plan is adequate to address the need for care and/or protection.

The plan must focus on the outcomes sought for mokopuna. For each outcome identified the plan should outline the changes required, actions, responsibilities and timeframes to complete. It should detail outcomes-based behavioural changes, and demonstrate what success will look like. The plan should use the SMART planning methodology to ensure that all of the goals and objectives in the plan are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Reviewable and Timeframed.

For more information and general guidance for writing a good plan read: Planning and Reviewing.

Content requirements for court plans

Section 130 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 states that court plans must contain a number of specific requirements in addition to following the SMART methodology outlined above. The plan must contain the following:

  • The outcomes for mokopuna that the plan is trying to achieve
  • The tasks, responsibilities and timeframes agreed to in order to achieve the agreed outcomes
  • The responsibilities and personal objectives of mokopuna, as well as the responsibilities and personal objectives of mokopuna and any parent, guardian and/or caregiver involved in the plan
  • The responsibilities of any parent, guardian or other person who previously had care of mokopuna and wishes to have mokopuna returned to his or her care. This must include detail on the behavioural changes that person must make and the steps they must take before mokopuna can return to his or her care.
  • The timeframes for completing the specific tasks and behavioural changes, and the timeframe for any decision about whether or not mokopuna will be returned to the care of any parent, guardian and/or caregiver.

These are the minimum statutory requirements and good plans may include a number of other things such as arrangements for parents who are not seeking to have mokopuna returned to their care but still wish to have contact. Remember to be including the voice of mokopuna at all times to ensure that plans incorporate their views wherever possible. See: Planning and Reviewing.

Mokopuna have a right to freely express their views and participate in the preparation and review of their plans. Their views must be taken into account.

Refer to the Participation and views of children and young people policy for further guidance.

Section 29A of the Act requires that family group conference plans must fulfill the same section 130 content requirements as court plans. The court can treat the family group conference record of decisions as the court plan without the need for the social worker to recreate a plan for the purpose of the Court proceedings. In some cases the social worker will still need to prepare a formal court plan because the FGC record may not be sufficiently detailed or the circumstances may have changed in some way. Any plan prepared by the social worker should be closely based on any agreements and decisions made by the family group conference.

If the plan filed (whether it be the FGC plan or the plan prepared by the Social Worker) does not comply with the section 130 requirements the family court judge will indicate that he/she finds that the plan is not adequate and will require the social worker to provide a revised plan. The family court judge will only accept the plan as adequate if it contains the matters outlined above. The exception is where there is no realistic possibility that mokopuna will return home. Where this is the case, the plan should set out the long term needs of mokopuna and proposals for how those needs will be met.

Legal review of documentation

Legal services will need to review the plan and social worker’s report in the following circumstances:

  • Where the plan relates to subsequent children
  • Where the plan addresses the needs of a mokopuna aged 15 and over who is transitioning to independence
  • Where there has been a placement breakdown for mokopuna in a permanent placement but before orders have been made in favour of the caregivers (eg special guardianship, parenting order)
  • Where there has been a shift from ‘return home’ to ‘no realistic possibility of return home’, or vice versa
  • If the case is contentious, complex or high profile
  • If there is no consent or there is likely to be a defended hearing

In other circumstances it is at the social worker’s discretion whether to review the plan with legal services. The social worker should consult with their supervisor throughout this process.

Implementing and distributing the plan

A FGC record and a Court plan are important documents and there is law detailing who can have access to them. An FGC record of decisions is given or sent by the care and protection coordinator to the mokopuna, the parent/guardian/person who has the care of the mokopuna, the lawyer for child, the lay advocate, the care and protection resource panel. The care and protection coordinator also sends the FGC record of decisions to any person directly affected by the FGC outcome.

If the FGC record is to be used as the court plan it will be important to check with the care and protection co-ordinator about who has been given or sent a copy of the FGC record. A social worker should check in with the care and protection coordinator about who has received a copy of an FGC record. If a social worker believes that there are other persons directly affected by the FGC outcome that ought to have a copy of the FGC record, they should discuss this with the care and protection coordinator. A care and protection co-ordinator is also able to authorise access to any person that the care and protection co-ordinator believes has a genuine and proper interest in the matter, for example a teacher.

Section 132 covers access to court plans. It is the Court Registrar who is responsible for providing a copy of a court plan to the people entitled to appear in court and be heard as well as to the lawyer for child and lay advocate. (In some court regions there is an arrangement where it is the social worker who will give a copy instead of the court registrar).

If the social worker believes that there are other persons with a proper interest in receiving a court plan, then recommend this to the court so that those other persons can also receive a copy of the plan. For example, if the social worker believes it is appropriate for a teacher or a caregiver to receive a copy of the court plan, then the social worker must ask the court for permission to give them a copy.

The legal provisions that restrict access to a plan do not prevent the social worker from making sure a person understands their role in helping meet the care and/or protection needs of mokopuna.

In order to support the actions identified in the plan, it is good practice to make arrangements so that copies of the plan can be made available to anyone who is named with a role in the plan and therefore has a legitimate interest in receiving it. This includes caregivers or teachers etc. who have a role in implementing the plan. It is especially important that caregivers receive the plan to ensure that they understand their roles and responsibilities, and are clear about what is expected of everybody, including mokopuna.

The plan will contain a level of sensitive information so discretion should always be used when considering who should receive a copy. In some circumstances, the social worker may decide that the plan is either not to be disclosed to certain people, or should only be partially disclosed. The social worker may request the court to direct that certain specified persons should not receive a copy or should receive an edited copy.

Monitoring and reviewing the plan

The social worker should be proactively monitoring the plan and progress against the plan must be recorded. Good proactive monitoring of the plan will include:

  • Phone calls, visits or meetings with mokopuna and/or whānau to discuss how the plan is progressing.
  • Identification of obstacles as they emerge and discussion with key participants. If appropriate this should include exploring alternative ways to achieve objectives.
  • Recording of any delays or deviations to the plan, and informing those affected.
  • Accurately recording progress towards the plan on CYRAS, including the achievement of key actions.

A court plan must be reviewed within six months if mokopuna are under the age of seven years, or within 12 months if mokopuna are age seven or over. The family court will set a date for the court to review at the time that court orders are made. The court date indicates when the review must be ready for consideration by the court.

12 weeks prior to the court date for review, the social worker needs to determine how the plan should be reviewed and whether a referral to reconvene the FGC should be made (see below for more detail). This decision needs to be discussed and agreed with their supervisor.

The social worker starts by reviewing and updating their social work assessment and completing a Tuituia report, which is then approved by their supervisor. The social worker is assessing what changes have occurred and what progress has been made from the previous plan.

8 to 10 weeks prior to the court date the review meeting or FGC should occur. If the social worker has decided that a family group conference is not required, the social worker will hold a review meeting, inviting key participants. This should include mokopuna, their parents, guardians and/or caregivers, any relevant whānau members, the counsel for child, and any other relevant participants. At the meeting, the social worker facilitates the review of the previous plan and discusses their updated assessment.

If the social worker has made a referral to convene an FGC for the purpose of the review, it is the co-ordinators responsibility to convene. The same timeframes apply so that the plan can be prepared and filed in time for the court date.

4 weeks prior to the court date the revised plan (if required) and report should be filed in the family court. Depending on the nature of the plan it may need to be reviewed by legal services (as per the above guidelines). The plan should be provided as per the provisions of s132. The names of persons that the social worker considers should receive a copy of the plan are to be provided to the court. This will include mokopuna, the counsel for child and the parents, guardians. The social worker may consider it appropriate for a copy of the revised plan to be provided to the caregivers in whole or in part.

Whichever path is selected for the review, the mokopuna must be encouraged and assisted to participate and express their views. Their views must be taken into account.

Refer to the Participation and views of children and young people policy for further guidance.

Review of court plans by family group conference

The social worker may require a care and protection co-ordinator to convene a family group conference for the purpose of reviewing the court plan. This may happen at any time at the request of the social worker, and the co-ordinator must accept the referral.

Family group conferences will be used to review a court plan relating to:

  • All mokopuna aged 15 above (these must have a focus on their transition to independence)
  • Changing from a realistic possibility of return home to no realistic possibility of return home, or vice versa
  • Where there has been a permanent living arrangement breakdown but Care of Children Act orders have not yet been made

When a Court plan is going to be reviewed by FGC ensure that:

  • the Tuituia assessment is current, risk statements are updated and key information is shared with participants
  • an FGC planning meeting takes place to help prepare for the FGC
  • invitation letters are sent out to participants at least two weeks before the scheduled review
  • people involved in the plan, including mokopuna, family/whānau and key professionals, have been engaged with prior to the review and had an opportunity to share their perspective on how the plan is progressing
  • mokopuna are encouraged and assisted to participate and express their views and mokopuna views are taking into account
  • accomplishments are acknowledged and successes celebrated
  • if the plan has not been working, the reasons why have been discussed with family/whānau and they have been encouraged to consider possible solutions that they can present at the review
  • any reports or assessments relevant to the review meeting are made available to participants, and participants are assisted to understand them if required.

FGC Practice Standard 10 (PDF 428 KB)

Towards independence policy

Participation and views of children and young people policy

In all other circumstances it is at the social worker’s discretion whether to require a co-ordinator to convene a family group conference. They may decide to do so where a plan or placement has broken down, or when there has been a change in circumstances which means that the plan no longer meets the needs of mokopuna. If the social worker does decide to refer for a family group conference, the referral should detail why a family group conference is needed to review the previous plan to assist the care and protection coordinator in the convening of the FGC. The social worker should consult with their supervisor throughout this process.