Updated: 21 June 2017
This key information discusses the importance of finding a permanent placement for mokopuna, and the options available for this.
Stability of care supports better outcomes for mokopuna than multiple moves and placement disruption (Atwool, 2010; Jones, 2011; Rubin et al, 2012).
Mokopuna need to know that life has predictability and continuity (Maluccio, Fein & Olmstead, 1986). A permanent living arrangement gives mokopuna a stable environment in which to grow up but, more than this, it gives them relationships for life which are enduring, secure and nurturing.
Why securing permanency for mokopuna in care is important
Research tells us that:
- stable and continuous care is important for natural and healthy child development as this helps meet the needs of mokopuna for safety and support
- mokopuna need secure and uninterrupted emotional relationships with adults who are responsible for their care in order to learn how to build secure attachments later in life
- it is much easier for parents to maintain a strong commitment to mokopuna when their role is secure
- being part of a family/whānau adds a critical element of predictability to the lives of mokopuna, thereby promoting a sense of belonging and identity
- being in a care arrangement and never knowing when or where you might be moved can be extremely stressful for mokopuna
- when a mokopuna is fully integrated into a family/whānau, they can form a more secure sense of the future and are better able to endure challenges throughout life and become resilient (Jenson & Fraser, 2006).
Principles underpinning our work when seeking permanency for mokopuna
The principles outlined in Te Toka Tumoana and Va'aifetū highlight the importance of keeping mokopuna and family/whānau (particularly birth parents/guardians and other immediate family/whānau members) at the centre of decision-making and permanency planning.
Active planning to secure a permanent living arrangement for mokopuna starts from the moment the mokopuna comes into care, and we need to encourage and support their participation in planning and decision-making at every stage.
Family/whānau involvement in planning and decision making is vital as well. Family/whānau need to be encouraged to be involved in all decisions relating to the care of their tamariki, particularly those relating to their long term care. We should take every reasonable step to engage with them and understand what their wishes are for their tamariki.
Plans also need to be developed in collaboration with the current caregivers, relevant professionals, and counsel for the mokopuna.
Family meetings/whānau hui are a great way of bringing everyone together to make robust and sound decisions about safe care arrangements. During meetings/hui there may be differences of opinion about what the best care arrangements are for mokopuna. It is important we are upfront with family/whānau and mokopuna about our worries while supporting their participation in decision making and finding the best care arrangement for the mokopuna.
When a social worker believes that the mokopuna should not live with their parents/guardians or other family/whānau, they need to communicate this view to both the mokopuna and family/whānau and make sure they understand how they came to form this view. These may be difficult and emotionally-fraught conversations but they need to happen promptly and with sensitivity. Listen carefully to what everyone has to say, and then get them to map out what the next steps are towards achieving a permanent living arrangement for the mokopuna.
Permanent care outcomes for mokopuna
Achieving permanency for mokopuna is not just about them living away from their parents/guardians — very often mokopuna living in care arrangements will eventually return to their parents/guardians. But when this cannot happen, a permanent living arrangement is considered with family/whānau or non-family/whānau caregivers.
Living with parents/guardians
Sometimes there may not be sufficient safety for a mokopuna to remain at home but there is evidence of commitment and capability to support their future care and safety. Mokopuna may need to spend a period of time with family/whānau or non-family/whānau caregivers while their parents address concerns which may be related to neglect and/or abuse. Plans need to focus on strengthening the existing protective factors and increasing evidence of safety over time so that mokopuna can be transitioned home.
When thinking about returning mokopuna home, consider the following questions:
- What adult behaviours have to change for the mokopuna to safely return home?
- Do the parents show willingness and capacity to change?
- Can change be achieved within the timeframe of the mokopuna?
- What support will the parents need to make these changes?
- Are the changes realistic, achievable and sustainable?
- How will change be recognised and measured?
Talk about the matters with the mokopuna, parents/guardians, wider family/whānau, and the counsel for the mokopuna, and give consideration to discharging custody orders and putting other orders in place to support the return home, such as a s140 extended care agreement. The option of an extended care agreement should be a family-led decision and an outcome of a family group conference.
Living with family/whānau
There will be times when mokopuna cannot be safely returned to their parents/guardians' care within a timeframe that meets their age and developmental needs. In these situations, a permanent care arrangement for mokopuna with their immediate or wider family/whānau is the next best option, providing this meets their safety and stability needs. This type of care arrangement will help maintain family/whānau links, family/whānau history and a sense of belonging, as well as fostering the cultural and spiritual needs of the mokopuna.
Bring family/whānau together to talk about ways of retaining the mokopuna safely in family/whānau care. Every effort needs to be made to engage with extended family/whānau, hapu and iwi on both their maternal and paternal sides in the search for a safe family/whānau placement.
When family/whanau are thinking about stepping up to be permanent caregivers for a mokopuna, help them consider these issues:
- How will they manage any potentially difficult or complex family/whānau dynamics?
- What will be the impact of this placement on their own mokopuna?
- What practical and emotional support will they need to care for the mokopuna?
Living with non-family/whānau
While the majority of mokopuna who are unable to return home can achieve a permanent living arrangement with family/whānau, there will be occasions when this is not possible and non-family/whānau caregivers will be sought instead.
It is important to remember that a permanent living arrangement for mokopuna outside of their family/whānau does not signal the absolute end of one family/whānau and the beginning of another, nor does it sever mokopuna emotional ties to their birth family/whānau. Even when mokopuna are not going to be placed with family/whānau, it is still important to involve them in the decision to determine the most suitable permanent caregivers.
Choosing the ideal caregivers requires a process of ‘matching' which will consider issues such as:
- geographical locality
- sibling placement
- developmental and/or health and/or behavioural issues
- continuity of kindergarten/pre-school/kohanga reo/school and friendships and existing recreational activities
- supports and maintenance of ties with the parents/guardians, siblings and birth family/whānau.
Mokopuna need to be involved in in the decision making to determine the most suitable caregivers, along with the family/whānau. Ideally, holding a meeting/hui with mokopuna, parents/guardians, family/whānau members, previous caregivers and the prospective permanent caregivers and professionals involved with mokopuna is the best way of understanding the current and long term needs of mokopuna and developing a support package for the caregivers.
This meeting/hui could also discuss and agree on the process of transitioning the mokopuna from one caregiver to the new prospective permanent caregiver’s home. Particular attention should be given to how shared guardianship responsibilities will be managed, how contact arrangements can be normalised, and what to do if conflict occurs. This meeting, if carefully planned and facilitated, can create positive outcomes where mokopuna can feel a strong sense of belonging to both their birth family/whānau and their non-family/whānau caregivers and their family/whānau.
Permanent living arrangements when the chief executive retains custody
For a relatively small number of mokopuna, it may be appropriate that the chief executive retains custody long term to meet their individual needs. The reasons for this are varied, though most are due to mokopuna having long term high and complex needs that require additional on-going support e.g. behavioural, physical and/or intellectual disability.
This decision will be reached through comprehensive assessment and proactive planning with the mokopuna, their family/whānau and others to ensure it is in the best interests of mokopuna for the chief executive to retain custody. Ensure you consult with your supervisor and practice leader.
The decision for the chief executive to retain custody does not change the permanent care outcome we are seeking to achieve for mokopuna. Though orders will not be obtained by the caregivers, wherever possible a permanent home with family/whānau will be sought and, if this is not possible, a suitable permanent non-family/whānau arrangement should be secured.
There may be occasions when mokopuna have come into the custody of the chief executive in their teens, or they may have been in care for some time and a permanent care arrangement has not been secured. In these situations mokopuna will need someone to support, guide and mentor them as they transition to independent living. It is important to understand the needs of mokopuna and to develop a support package which will allow them to live successfully as an independent young adult.
Spend time with mokopuna to understand their needs, hopes and dreams, and work with them to plan for their independence. Remember that even when mokopuna are moving into independent living, they are vulnerable and will need to be connected to people that will be there for them into the future.
Keeping mokopuna at the centre of decision-making
At all times, the best interests of mokopuna are paramount. Part of this is ensuring that decisions are made in their timeframe, not adult timeframes. We need to remember that for a one year old mokopuna, waiting even six months for a decision to be made about their permanent care is often too long; this is half their life-time.
Mokopuna need to be involved in all decisions that are made about their lives. They will have their own views and thoughts and we need to take these into account. There are different ways of involving mokopuna in meetings and decision making, dependent on their age and understanding.
- Spend time with mokopuna on their own and talk to them about what has happened. Talk to them about their views and what they would like to see changed or to happen next.
- Sometimes communicating with very young mokopuna is best undertaken through play. For example, by drawing a large road map with houses representing different whānau homes, you can use a toy car to 'drive' around them while talking with the mokopuna about their views, wishes and feelings about events or proposed plans.
- Some mokopuna may not want to attend meetings that are about them but will give their views about what they would like to see happen.
- Mokopuna need to be given the opportunity to attend any relevant meetings so they can have their say. Think about how the meeting is going to be held and make changes to ensure it is child-friendly and child-centred.
- Prepare other people at the meeting to use simple, non-judgmental, jargon-free language.
- Keep the agenda straightforward and focused in such a way that mokopuna can express their views at the beginning of the meeting.
- Have a space outside of the room for mokopuna to go if they wish to leave the meeting for a period of time. Consider having a support person or advocate for mokopuna at the meeting.
Refer to Key information: Keeping our focus on mokopuna for more ideas on how to involve mokopuna in planning and decision making.
Jenson, J.M. & Fraser, M.W. (2006). Social Policy for Children and Families: A Risk and Resilience Perspective. California, USA: Sage Publications.
Maluccio, A.N., Fein, E., & Olmstead, K.A. (1986). Permanency Planning for Children: Concepts and Methods. New York, USA: Tavistock Publications.
Support available to permanent caregivers for the immediate and future needs of tamariki in their care
Effective support can help reduce caregiver strain and placement disruption, and is a predictor of a positive placement outcome.