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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/practice-standards/see-and-engage-tamariki/see-and-engage-tamariki-guidance/
Printed: 20/05/2024
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Last updated: 08/11/2017

See and engage tamariki — guidance

I will see and engage with each tamaiti I am working with, in order to understand their needs, build their trust and ensure they have a say in decisions.

I will know I've achieved this standard when...

I have spent face-to-face time, alone where possible, with each tamaiti I work with

  • Engaging ‘face-to-face’ is how we find out first-hand what is happening with each tamaiti we work with. Information given over the telephone, via video-conference, text, Facebook messaging or email, or through a third-party, will never truly compensate for the richness of information that comes from ‘in person’ contact with te tamaiti. Face-to-face contact can also help to build a sense of trust and comfort for te tamaiti in your relationship with them.
  • ‘Face-to-face’ time between a practitioner and te tamaiti can happen at a range of locations, depending on the purpose for the interaction. If it is a first-time meeting to talk about your worries, seeing them in their familiar surroundings (either at their home or school) might be most appropriate.
  • If te tamaiti is in care, check with them about where they’d prefer to meet and check they are feeling safe before and during a visit. Perhaps they have a favourite café or other special place they’d like to share with you. It will always be important to engage with te tamaiti at home at least once, to get a sense of whether this is a safe place for them to be.
  • The frequency of ‘face-to-face’ time will be different for every tamaiti, but it needs to be enough for you to build and maintain a trusting and honest relationship with each other, assure yourself of their safety and wellbeing, and enable you to keep their plan on track. It’s positive to have fun and enjoy being with te tamaiti when you engage together, as this helps build a positive relationship. You need to convey that you accept te tamaiti as a valuable and unique young person (while also being clear some of their behaviours may not be okay, if this is relevant or needed).
  • Talk to and get to know tamariki on their own, away from the adults and other tamariki in their lives. You want to hear what they think and how they feel, or just spend time with them if they are not yet talking, and it can be hard to give them your full attention with others around. Sometimes te tamaiti would like some support with them while they get to know you. This might be their teacher if you meet with them at school or an older sibling if you see them at home. Remember to ask what would help them feel most comfortable.
  • What you do during these ‘face-to-face’ interactions will differ depending on te tamaiti. It might be that you just sit and have a conversation with each other. For te tamaiti who is very young, communication might be best undertaken through play or drawing. Regardless, always keep your voice calm and your words simple and clear, and keep checking in with them to see if they have any questions or would like to try a different approach.
  • In our conversations with te tamaiti, we need to make sure we tell them who we are sharing information with and what is being shared. After talking with te tamaiti, we need to liaise with others, including caregivers, as te tamaiti may be upset or unsettled about changes that may take place as they open up and share what is going on for them. 

I have engaged with someone who can speak on their behalf, where tamariki are unable to speak for themselves

  • There may be times when tamariki cannot speak for themselves. Perhaps they are very young or have a disability, or maybe English is not their first language. In these situations, work out what the barrier is and then come up with a way to overcome this.
    For example:
    Te tamaiti with a disability will likely have other professionals involved with them who know the tamaiti well enough to speak for them and share their views. In the case of a baby or toddler, they can communicate through sounds (e.g. squeals, gurgles, grunts, cries) and actions (e.g. waving their arms, kicking their legs, stiffening their bodies, shifting their gaze). You can learn a lot about their likes and dislikes by learning their repertoire of sounds and actions which can easily tell you, if you are listening and observing with care, what they want, how they feel, and what interests them. Their caregiver, through their day-to-day interaction, is someone who can speak authoritatively on behalf of te tamaiti.
  • Where tamariki don’t want to or cannot speak for themselves, they have the right to nominate and be represented by a support person. This support person could be a whānau member, someone from a service or activity they are involved with (e.g. school guidance counsellor, rugby coach, mentor), or any other person that they trust.
  • If possible, check in with te tamaiti about how this process is working for them. Is their support person representing their views accurately? What help might they need if they want to speak in the future? 
  • Remember to also think about how you will work to ensure support for te tamaiti into the future – who are the people that will continue to look out for the future safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti long after Oranga Tamariki is out of the picture?  

I have gathered information about what is happening for te tamaiti, their needs and strengths, their culture and identity, and their views, feelings and wishes

  • I understand and have recorded the views of te tamaiti with regard to their identity, and any links and affiliations they have to hapū and iwi. Some tamariki, including those from Pacific backgrounds and other ethnic groups, may identify links they have with people and places in Aotearoa and overseas where relevant. Some may identify with other cultural groups including those from the LGBTQI community, churches and other organisations. Some tamariki may not wish to disclose personal information as readily as others, sometimes for cultural or religious reasons.
  • Understanding the needs and strengths of te tamaiti you work with is a key task. Without this, you can’t begin to help make life better and safer for them. Your relationship with te tamaiti is crucial to gaining this understanding. They will likely only feel comfortable sharing their story with you if they trust you.
  • Building a trusting relationship requires you to:
    • prepare well before meeting with te tamaiti
    • be open, honest, and respectful
    • be clear about your role
    • listen carefully
    • challenge and support
    • acknowledge and celebrate achievements
    • confront problems
    • be reliable
    • do what you say you will without unnecessary delay.
  • Developing trust takes time. You won’t get a sense of what is happening for te tamaiti in just one visit – it will likely take a number of visits and interactions to find out enough for you to feel confident that you know about their lived experience at a particular point in time.
  • Prior to each interaction, think about why you need to talk with te tamaiti and the sorts of things you want to talk about. Think about what did not go well (or did go well) for te tamaiti and their whānau in any previous involvement with services. It might be that you need to ask te tamaiti some questions about worries you have. Think about how you would like to be engaged if you were in their shoes. Rushing straight in with your questions could be quite scary if they don’t know you well or don’t know what you will do with what they tell you.
  • Make sure te tamaiti knows what your role is and why you want to talk with them, and spend time getting to know them by talking about things they’re interested in. Be genuine in your engagement – show them that you value and care about what they are telling you. If you’ve met them before, remind them what they told you last time so they can hear you were listening. Remain curious and open to what they have to say, rather than implying you have a view right from the outset.
  • When gathering information about what is happening, the immediate priority is to understand the needs of te tamaiti in terms of their safety and their strengths, and the strengths and risks in their in environment and amongst those connected to them. As you engage with them and seek to understand their strengths and needs, it is important to always look to understand what is happening for them in terms of their longer term wellbeing and development milestones too. 

I have discussed, with te tamaiti who has offended, the effects of their offending behaviour on victims and the community

  • In situations where you are working with tamariki who have offended, it is important to make time and create space to hear their views and perspectives about their offending. These conversations will highlight some of the needs and challenges sitting behind their actions and beliefs about what has occurred and why.
  • As you begin these discussions with te tamaiti, be aware of any difficulties they may display when you talk with them. Check their understanding of what you are saying by using appropriate communication techniques and resources. Also be aware of any potential health or developmental conditions that may need to be assessed for te tamaiti.
  • Through your discussions together, you need to explore with te tamaiti their understanding of their offending behaviour, so they can reach the point of acknowledging that their actions are wrong and understand the reasons why. This includes understanding that their offending is against the law and that their actions have impacted negatively on the victim/s.
  • Through your conversations, consider whether they have an appreciation and recognition of how their offending has affected the victims. Have they thought about how they can start to put things right for the victims?
  • It is helpful for you to have previously spoken with the victims of offending by te tamaiti, so their feelings about the offending can be explained clearly to te tamaiti when you have discussions with them.
  • Also check whether te tamaiti is expressing any doubts or is having difficulties in understanding or communicating that their offending behaviour was wrong and against the law. If this is the case, then it is appropriate to get a professional assessment for te tamaiti.
  • Your engagement with te tamaiti should also support them to take responsibility and accountability for the offending undertaken. An example of actively taking responsibility is where te tamaiti does something within their community as redress for their offending. Using local providers and community groups to work with te tamaiti can help them to fully understand the wider effects of their offending behaviour.
  • Talk with whānau about the offending of te tamaiti. Often whānau can give you an insight into what lies behind the behaviour. Consider the effect of the offending on whānau and any siblings of te tamaiti and their responses to it – their positive support for te tamaiti is important to addressing both the harm caused to the victim and the causes of the offending.
  • It is important that te tamaiti who has offended understands there are consequences for their behaviour. They need to complete any obligations arising from their offending actions. Make sure that they fully understand what is required of them and that they (and their whānau) are provided with appropriate support to accomplish this.

I have identified their whakapapa, important connections and relationships

  • All tamariki need to know about their birth family, their whakapapa, and how they are linked to enable them to develop a sense of self and identity. Feeling part of, or disconnected from, the whānau system critically impacts on one’s sense of belonging.
  • In addition to this, tamariki who are disconnected from whānau can miss out on the protective capacity of the wider family. This refers to people in the extended whānau who can provide supportive care in a loving and stable environment.
  • Failure to gather sufficient information about whānau relationships frequently results in superficial, unbalanced and even dangerous assessments and decision-making.
  • Your role is to help te tamaiti build a picture of their whakapapa if they don’t already have it, or enhance it if they do. Holding this knowledge supports you to have the right people participating in the decision-making and working with te tamaiti going forward.
  • From your first meeting with te tamaiti and their family and whānau, you are gathering information about their whakapapa. Their name alone may connect them to their whānau, hapū or iwi as well as significant places, people or situations. Take your time – some families and whānau might feel a sense of shame if they don’t know their whakapapa well or don’t have good relationships with some of their whānau. Frame up the conversation around te tamaiti – regardless of the adult issues, te tamaiti deserves and has a right to know who they are and where they belong. This will be helpful to te tamaiti while Oranga Tamariki is involved and also once involvement has ended.
  • Record the whakapapa of te tamaiti by mapping it out on a piece of paper or in the case record for te tamaiti. A whānau hui could provide a great opportunity to do this collectively and accurately if the whānau is agreeable to it. Ensure that all significant individuals are identified, as well as their relationships and linkages. You can also record inter-generational themes and patterns (e.g. violence, substance abuse). Having it recorded also means you can easily share it with other colleagues and professionals.
  • Other relationships outside of whānau may be important to te tamaiti (e.g. friends, mentors, a netball coach) and the detail of these need to be captured somewhere too. Doing so is especially important for those tamaiti who have no sense of connection to their whānau.
  • As noted earlier, in some cultures or whānau contexts, personal information about whānau may be considered private or may be shared cautiously with others outside of the whānau or known others. Don’t assume tamariki or whānau automatically wish to disclose personal information. This may take time and require trust to be built in your relationship with them. 

I have ensured their participation and voice in the assessment and decision-making

  • Tamariki have a right to participate in, and express their views in and/or about:
    • court proceedings under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989
    • family group conferences
    • planning
    • any other action or decision that significantly affects them.
  • Participation is about tamariki having the opportunity, on an on-going basis, to freely express their views and opinions in any matter concerning them, and to have these taken into account. These should influence and enrich decision-making. It is not a matter of giving tamariki information about what has already been decided or what is going to happen, and it goes beyond simply listening to them, or them ‘taking part’ or ‘being present’.
  • Your assessment of te tamaiti needs to be shared with them in a way that will make sense to them, and they need to be given the opportunity to express their views about it. Tell them what you think is going well and what you are worried about, and be open to hearing their take on things. They may add previously unknown information to the picture you have formed which might change your thinking.

I have shared information about their rights and spoken with them about what is happening and next steps

  • At all points, you need to make sure te tamaiti knows what is happening and what the next steps are. This is regardless of whether you have met with them at home once or they have been in care for a year. The way you do this will vary depending on te tamaiti and their particular needs. It is also important, where you can, to provide choices for te tamaiti (even small ones). This helps te tamaiti to contribute to decision-making, to build their sense of efficacy and to have an influence over the next steps for them.
  • The optimal result is that te tamaiti is present at all decision-making and planning points. They can see and hear first-hand what everyone is thinking and they have opportunities to share their own views. They can see their voice in their plan and they’ll have their own copy of it. Without looking at their copy, they can tell you:
    • what is in their plan
    • who is responsible for what needs to happen next
    • when you will all meet again to measure progress, celebrate success, and find solutions for the things that aren’t going so well.
  • They will also know who to talk with if they have any worries or questions about the plan.
  • Think creatively about what the plan might physically look like so that it is understandable and accessible to te tamaiti. For younger tamariki, the plan could be on a big piece of paper with drawings to illustrate the tasks, and be taped on a wall in the lounge or their bedroom. Older tamariki might like to keep an electronic copy of their plan on their phone so they can refer to it easily. Check in with te tamaiti to find out what will work best for them.
  • In considering your communication with te tamaiti, it is important to remember that a tamaiti with disabilities may have visual or hearing challenges or a chronological age that is higher than their developmental age. This may mean they require extra assistance to understand what you are seeking to communicate with them or to participate in communicating with you.
  • Also remember that ‘next steps’ need to be in the timeframe of te tamaiti, not the adults in their life. For a three year old tamaiti, waiting even six months for people to do what they said they’d do might be too long.
  • For tamariki in care, they have rights – the right to feel welcome, be treated well and be well cared for – and you need to make sure that they and their caregiver are aware of these. When their rights are not being met, tamariki need to know who they can share their worries with so that the problems are worked out.

I have ensured their views inform my decision-making

  • Tamariki should be encouraged and assisted to attend any meetings that are about them and be given opportunities to speak up and talk about what they think. This requires some early thinking around preparing other people at the meeting to use simple, non-judgemental and jargon-free language. Sometimes te tamaiti may need a support person who can sit alongside them, help them understand what others are saying and make sure they get their chance to talk. In situations where it may not be appropriate for te tamaiti to attend (e.g. it is suspected that participants may become violent) or te tamaiti does not want to be at the meeting, their views can be shared via other means. You can help them express themselves through writing, drawing, painting, taking photos, or by recording themselves talking or even singing – whichever feels most comfortable to them. Let te tamaiti lead you in this process.
  • Once te tamaiti has expressed their views, they need to be taken into account in the decision-making and planning that happens next. Where there is disparity between your views and the views of te tamaiti, what is most important is that te tamaiti sees their voice has been heard and knows you remain open to hearing it. A conversation then needs to happen between yourself and te tamaiti about any decisions made that might differ from the one te tamaiti favours. 

I have checked they continue to be safe through observing their physical wellbeing and any changes that may have occurred in their behaviour or demeanour

Throughout the process of relationship building and connection with te tamaiti, their safety remains your biggest priority.

A safe tamaiti:

  • is free from physical, sexual and emotional harm
  • has an enduring relationship with a safe adult who cares for them and protects them
  • has their basic physical needs met (e.g. a warm home, healthy food, good hygiene)
  • has support to help them work through historical and intergenerational trauma
  • has opportunities to express their needs, wishes and feelings.

Safety is also about giving tamariki opportunities to learn and develop their abilities, and have their emotional and physical development needs met by a range of capable adults.

When working with tamariki, it is vital that we build safety around them in ways that will endure beyond our involvement with them and their whānau. Building safety is an on-going process which needs to be continuously reviewed as the circumstances for te tamaiti change. Factors such as age, gender and history of trauma play a significant role when building safety about tamariki; what will provide safety for a teenager living away from home will look vastly different for a two year old who is in the care of their parents.

Building safety cannot happen in isolation from tamariki. How can they keep themselves safe if they don’t know what it is supposed to look and feel like? Having a clear benchmark of what safety means and looks like to te tamaiti is the starting point. You can then track with them at each interaction how their current state measures up against the benchmark, and take action to improve or maintain this state.

Remember that safety doesn’t just come through in words; how te tamaiti acts or behaves can also indicate how safe they feel. If te tamaiti was previously compliant but is now displaying unusually aggressive behaviour (or vice versa), take the time to talk with them about what is going on in their life. You might see a regression in developmental areas (e.g. toileting) if they feel unsafe. Mention to them what you (and others) have noticed in their behaviour, and ask them if anything has changed since you last saw them.

Even if they can’t articulate why they are behaving the way they are, help them find the words to express themselves. Validate what they say and their courage in talking with you, along with any other coping skills they might be using. Consider the particular age and developmental stage of te tamaiti, and their attachments with others, as this will help you in your conversations with them.