Section 19 referrals to a Care and Protection Coordinator
This practice note provides clarity on the process, obligations and timeframes once a referral under section 19 is received by a care and protection co-ordinator.
Note: It is important that anybody, organisation or court concerned with the welfare of children and young persons, may refer a child or young person to a care and protection co-ordinator under s19(1)(a) or (b) if they believe the child or young person is in need of care and protection on one or more of the grounds specified in s14(1).
What to do when a s19 referral is received
When a referral under s19 is received on site, it must be immediately allocated to a care and protection co-ordinator. This is particularly important when the referral is from a court as specific legislative timeframes apply and any delays will adversely affect the co-ordinator’s ability to respond within those timeframes. These timeframes are expanded below under ‘s19(4) timeframes and obligations to report to the court’.
Note: that a s19 referral is not a report of concern and the intake decision response guidelines do not apply.
The provision of full referral information is important to enable the care and protection co-ordinator to decide if it is necessary to convene a family group conference, report the matter to an enforcement agency or take other appropriate action.
As required under s19(1A), the referral must include:
- a statement of the reasons for believing that te tamaiti is in need of care or protection
- a statement indicating whether or not the referral is being made with the consent or knowledge of:
- the parents or guardians or other persons having the care of te tamaiti, or
- the family, whānau, or family group, and
- any recommendation as to the course of action the care and protection co-ordinator might take.
Note: that any information supplied under s19(1A) should be clearly linked to the grounds for concern under s14(1).
Referrals from the court should be completed on the template provided in the Joint Protocol Department for Courts and Department of Child Youth and Family Services (dated 1 July 2000).
It is important to note that if the referral is made on the grounds of a child offending under s14(1)(e), the co-ordinator must refer the matter to the Police or another appropriate enforcement agency - s19(2)(b).
What to do if the referral is missing detail or information
The care and protection co-ordinator is able to (and should) ask the referrer to provide more relevant information if the reason for the belief is unclear or lacking in detail or clarity. The co-ordinator should contact the referring agency or the court for more information if:
- the referral does not give enough detail for the co-ordinator to understand why the referrer believes that te tamaiti is in need of care or protection under s14(1)
- the referrer has not fully complied with their obligations under s19(1A) to provide all the necessary information.
Deciding if it is necessary to convene a family group conference
A s19 referral is not a direction to hold a family group conference - that is the decision of the care and protection co-ordinator. However, a s19 referral does require the co-ordinator to carefully consider whether a family group conference is necessary.
The recommendations of the referrer should also be carefully considered, but the co-ordinator is not compelled to follow those recommendations.
Once the co-ordinator has sufficient information, they can make a decision about whether it is necessary to convene a family group conference, or to take other action. This should include a consultation with the supervisor and with any social worker allocated to te tamaiti if they already known to Oranga Tamariki.
If the co-ordinator considers an investigation by a social worker is required
If the co-ordinator considers that an investigation by a social worker is required, the co-ordinator will discuss the case with the supervisor. This will include identifying any specific matters the co-ordinator believes need to be assessed.
The request for an investigation under s19(3) is a mandatory investigation provision. There is no discretion for the social worker to decline the request and there is no requirement for an added layer of referral, for example, a s15 Report of Concern. However, it is preferable that there is discussion with the supervisor and social worker when considering whether to require an investigation about the information received from the referrer. The decision to require an investigation under s19(3) rests with the care and protection co-ordinator.
Note: If after an investigation, the social worker believes that the child or young person is in need of care and/or protection under one or more grounds in s14(1), they must refer to a care and protection co-ordinator for a family group conference under s18(1).
If a s18(1) referral is made by a social worker, the referrer can be advised that their referral will not be progressed any further. The referrer is likely to be satisfied with this approach as a conference will be held and they may be invited to the conference as information-givers.
A decision to require an investigation under s19(3) must be made on a case-by-case basis. It must not be used as a blanket response to referrals from the court or other referring agencies.
What to do if a family group conference isn't necessary
If the co-ordinator is satisfied that a family group conference isn't necessary, the co-ordinator must provide the referring agency or court with information about the steps that have been taken and the reasons why a family group conference will not be convened.
The co-ordinator must be able to show due diligence in considering all the information before coming to this decision - this will usually involve consultation with social workers and supervisors and may also include the Practice Leader and Legal Services.
Responsibilities of the referring agency at the family group conference
It is important that the family group conference is presented with all the relevant information about the care and protection concerns.
A representative of the referring agency or the court must be invited to attend the family group conference.
It is important that the referring agency (under s19) understands that they are a legally entitled member at the family group conference and must have a representative who can attend to present their concerns to the family group conference. Any family group conference held will have a greater likelihood of reaching a successful outcome if the attending referrer is clear about what they are concerned about, and has given prior thought to how their agency can assist te tamaiti and their whānau.
The court as a referrer is not an entitled member at the family group conference. Therefore a robust referral outlining the reason for their belief is important. It is likely that the court will nominate a lawyer for child, a court counselling officer or other representative to attend as an information-giver to assist in presenting the court’s concern about the care or protection of te tamaiti. A lawyer for child will be an entitled member of the family group conference and may not necessarily share the view of the court. A court counselling officer or other representative of the court are not entitled members but will be able to outline the reasons why it is believed that te tamaiti is in need of care and protection.
S 19(4) timeframes and obligations to report to the court
It is important that all the required timeframes under s19(4) are met by the co-ordinator, even if it is only to advise the court that a course of action hasn't yet been decided.
Upon receiving the referral, the care and protection co-ordinator must:
- acknowledge receipt of the referral within 7 days under Oranga Tamariki policy - this should simply acknowledge the referral and advise that a response will be made within 28 days from the date of the referral
- notify the court within 28 days from the date of the referral under S19(4)(a) of what action will or has been taken (if any) as a result of the referral and if applicable, whether that action has resolved the matter and how.
If the matter is ongoing:
- the co-ordinator has a further 28 days from the date of the first report to provide a second written report under s19(4)(b). The report provides information on what action has been taken, what progress has been achieved, what action is proposed and/or a completion date
- and a course of action has still not been decided after the second 28 days or if further action is proposed, the court must still be advised within a further 28 days
- the co-ordinator should report to the court when a final resolution has been reached and what resolutions have been reached.
If the co-ordinator decides to convene a family group conference based on the information from the court or after a referral from a social worker, there is no requirement for the conference to be held within the timeframes given above.
What to do if placing a child outside New Zealand
If a s19 family group conference is considering placing a tamaiti outside of New Zealand, the care and protection co-ordinator will ask the family group conference to consider:
- Who will arrange for a care placement assessment if this has not occurred prior to the family group conference?
- Who will be responsible for arranging appropriate immigration-related permissions and documentation?
Note: A co-ordinator should only agree to a placement after being satisfied that the caregivers are suitable to provide for the child or young person’s care, control and upbringing.