Seeking solutions with families
Updated: 01 April 2017
What's Important To Us
Family/whānau decision-making is at the heart of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. The key strength of family/whānau decision-making is the involvement of all those who know and are committed to the child or young person concerned, including the child or young person. Children and young people and their families/whānau have a right to come together and create their own solutions to issues concerning their safety and well-being. Families/whānau are the experts of their own lives.
This policy focuses on working with families/whānau to develop solutions to respond to care and wellbeing concerns for their children and young people.
It covers the participation of children and young people, using family/whānau agreements to support families/whānau, and the family group conference.
Mokopuna participation and views
Mokopuna have a right to participate and express their views about matters that significantly affect them, including family group conference processes, planning and review.
Mokopuna must be encouraged and assisted to participate to a degree appropriate for their age and maturity. Even very young mokopuna have a right to participate, and they must be supported to do this safely.
Mokopuna must be given reasonable opportunity to freely express their views on matters affecting them. Views that they express must be taken into account.
If a mokopuna requires assistance to express their views or be understood, support must be provided to assist them.
See the Participation and views of children and young people policy for further detail.
Mokopuna have a right to express their views in matters affecting them; this is critical to any plan that affects them. Even very young mokopuna have a right to participate, and they must be supported to do this safely. Think creatively about how you can ensure that their voice is heard: Can they attend meetings or Court? Can they write down what they want to see happen? Can someone help them speak or speak for them if they can't attend? You may wish to talk with their lawyer for child about this. Think about:
- How to ensure the physical and emotional safety of mokopuna while enabling them to participate
- How to help mokopuna make sense of the process so they can participate in an informed and empowering way
- How to enable and encourage mokopuna to present their views in a way that is meaningful to them e.g. through pictures and letters
- Assisting mokopuna to identify people who can support and talk for them if they are unable to do this themselves
- Supporting them to talk in a language they feel comfortable with and to share how they feel about the decisions being made
- If they are too young or are unable to participate, whether there is an effective means of including their voice in the conference process
- How mokopuna can express their views in a way which takes in to account and strengthens their cultural connections and identity
Mokopuna will be given information about what will be said in hui ā-whānau and family group conferences by the social worker and/or family group conference co-ordinator.
See Key information Keeping our focus on mokopuna for ideas about involving mokopuna in the decisions about their lives.
A family/whānau agreement can be considered when there are some concerns for the wellbeing of the mokopuna but enough positive safety factors in place (as captured within a Tuituia assessment) for the whānau to engage in a voluntary agreement with Oranga Tamariki.
A family/whānau agreement is not an option if the level of concern has reached the point where the social worker has formed a belief that the mokopuna is in need of care and/or protection. Please note: the law requires that a referral for a family group conference must be made when a social worker believes a mokopuna is in need of care or protection.
A meeting/hui must be held with the whānau to complete the family/whānau agreement, the purpose of which is to assist the whānau to support the ongoing safety and wellbeing of mokopuna.
The hui ā-whānau results in a family/whānau agreement that is realistic, achievable and relates to the ongoing safety and wellbeing of mokopuna.
The family/whānau agreement has a maximum length of three months (with a possible one-month extension) and the whānau can withdraw from the agreement at any time. A second agreement can be made for a further three months, but cannot be extended. If the family/whānau agreement has not addressed the care and protection and wellbeing concerns the social worker must reassess whether the mokopuna is in fact in need of care and/or protection within one or more of the grounds in section 14. If yes, the social worker must make a referral to a family group conference.
Towards the end of the three months, the social worker must review the progress of the agreement in order to determine the next steps. This review must include the mokopuna and people involved in the agreement and must be recorded.
Care and protection family group conference
This section refers to the general process for care and protection family group conferences, from referral through to review. There are particular requirements for reviewing court plans via FGC, these are contained in the Court Plans Policy.
Remember to also take in to account the Family Group Conference Practice Standards and Te Toka Tumoana.
A social worker will refer for a care and protection family group conference without delay if they believe a mokopuna is in need of care or protection (on one or more of the grounds in section 14 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.
A Tuituia assessment for mokopuna will have been completed (and approved) prior to the referral being made. The referral will automatically populate from the most recent approved Tuituia report. The Tuituia report conclusions must have been discussed with the whānau so that the whānau understand what you are worried about.
Note that in urgent situations where an application for declaration was filed in court prior to the holding of a family group conference, it is not necessary for you to specifically refer to the Tuituia report when speaking with the whānau.
It remains important that the whānau understand what you are worried about in relation to the care and/or protection of their mokopuna. Refer to The care and protection family group conference referral in particular the section Tuituia assessment and report for more information.
A genogram must be created by the social worker for any mokopuna referred for a care and protection family group conference. Where further information on mokopuna health and education needs is likely to be required at the family group conference, a referral for a Gateway Assessment must also be made.
The co-ordinator has an obligation to ensure that relevant health and education information about the mokopuna in respect of whom the conference is held is made available to the conference. The co-ordinator will need to liaise with the social worker in order for this to happen.
Section 19(3) referral
When a section 19 referral has been made and the care and protection co-ordinator considers that a child and family assessment or investigation is necessary, the co-ordinator will discuss the case with the practice leader and, if necessary, seek further information from the referrer. The co-ordinator may request a Tuituia assessment be completed by a social worker and can discuss with the practice leader any specific things they think need to be assessed. The s19(3) referral must meet the criteria as outlined in the decision response tool if a referral for a child and family assessment or investigation is to be made.
A family group conference must be held as soon as is practicable, balancing the need for whānau involvement and mokopuna sense of time. If there is a delay in holding the family group conference, the care and protection co-ordinator must discuss this with the casework supervisor and social worker to ensure all actions are being taken to address mokopuna care and/or protection needs in the interim. Discussions should also consider how to manage casework needs.
For more information refer to:
- Key Information: The care and protection family group conference referral in particular the section on mokopuna safety prior to the family group conference
- Transition to Adulthood policies and guidance
Planning and preparation
Mokopuna and whānau members must be assisted to understand why the mokopuna is thought to be in need of care or protection. A hui ā-whānau should be arranged prior to the family group conference so that whānau have an opportunity to understand and discuss these issues prior to the conference. You will need to cover the importance of treating the information they hear at a hui ā-whānau with sensitivity. The information is personal to the whānau and should not be shared with others.
It is helpful for the whānau to understand that coming to the attention of Oranga Tamariki means that the mokopuna and the whānau are now part of a legal process. Ideally they will have made contact with someone that can give them legal advice.
If they have not received legal advice, it is good practice to recommend that they do make contact with a lawyer as social workers should not be explaining the law to whānau. It can be helpful for the whānau to know that the law guides all steps that the social worker takes and that it is the social workers role to make the whānau aware of what the social worker is worried about, what needs to change, what steps need to be taken to change and the timeframes for any change. The social worker should also identify that being part of a legal process now may also apply to any future mokopuna.
Legal requirements covering the content of both the FGC and Court plan are covered in section 130 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. The social worker must not agree to a plan proposed by a whānau unless it addresses the need for care and/or protection for mokopuna.
The plan must address the immediate safety of mokopuna and what happens if the plan starts going off track, as well as:
- the reason that the mokopuna is in need of care and/or protection
- the specific comes sought for the mokopuna
- the tasks, responsibilities and timeframes agreed to in order to get the outcome specified
- the specific responsibilities and personal objectives of the parent/guardian/caregiver of the child
- the responsibilities and personal objectives of the mokopuna - these need to be age appropriate and meaningful to the individual mokopuna
- the responsibilities and personal objectives of any parent, guardian or other person who previously had care of the mokopuna and wishes to have the mokopuna returned to his or her care. - it is critical to include the detail of the behavioural changes that the person must make and the steps that they must take before the mokopuna can return to their care
- the timeframes for these required changes or steps, and
- the timeframe for a decision about whether the mokopuna will be able to return to that person’s care.
When the plan is prepared on the basis that there is no realistic possibility that the mokopuna will be returned to the care of their parent, guardian or previous caregiver, the plan must set out the long-term needs of the mokopuna and proposals for how those needs will be met. In these cases the plan is not required to detail the changes required by the parent/guardian/previous caregiver of the mokopuna.
Review is a key component of the family group conference process.
Each family group conference plan will have a review date. It is the responsibility of the care and protection co-ordinator to ensure the review happens (unless the matter is already before the family court, in which case the review will occur through the court process).
The review date must be within 6 months if the plan relates to a mokopuna under the age of seven years, or within 12 months in any other case. Note that these are the statutory minimums and it may be good practice to review a plan earlier and more frequently than this.
If the matter is already before or will be before the Family Court, the conference must still agree on a review date but can note that it is likely that the review will occur through the court process. More information on the review process where the matter is before the family court can be found in the Court Plans Policy.
Reconvening the conference
Sometimes the family group conference will need to be reconvened, such as where a plan or placement has broken down, or when there has been a change in circumstances which means that the plan no longer addresses the needs of mokopuna. The social worker, their supervisor and the care and protection co-ordinator must discuss reconvening the conference.
The social worker’s referral must include the reasons why they believe a family group conference is required.
An iwi social service, cultural social service or child and family support service can also require the conference to be reconvened, but only if they made the original referral under s19, or if they are involved in the implementation of the plan.
The co-ordinator may also reconvene the conference for a review at the request of two members of the conference, or at their own discretion.
The co-ordinator is not required to reconvene the conference if they have consulted with the social worker and determined that no further action under the plan is required, or if before the review date the court makes a s86 order, s91 order, s101 order, s110 order or s113A order in respect of the mokopuna to whom the plan relates.
For further guidance see section 36 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 and:
- The care and protection family group conference referral
- Preparing and convening the care and protection family group conference
- Care and protection family group conference
- Family group conferencing practice standards
- Convening the youth justice family group conference
- Holding the youth justice family group conference
- After the youth justice family group conference
- Transition to Adulthood policy and guidance