What is the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki?
The Ministry for Children (Oranga Tamariki) replaced Child, Youth and Family (CYF) on 1 April 2017 and is the new government agency responsible for making sure children and young people up to the age of 18 years are safe and protected from abuse and neglect. Oranga Tamariki deals with complaints or concerns about child abuse or neglect, and has the power in certain situations to remove children from their home, to a place where they will be safe and properly cared for.
Oranga Tamariki is also involved in youth justice situations (e.g. when a child or young person breaks the law) and adoption.
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When might Oranga Tamariki get involved in my family?
Usually Oranga Tamariki will get involved after someone has contacted them with concerns about the care of a child or young person in your family, or if there has been an incident in your family where the Police have been involved.
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What will Oranga Tamariki do if someone tells them that a child is not being properly looked after?
When Oranga Tamariki receives a notification of possible neglect or abuse, a social worker will visit the child and the child’s family, to ask questions and make an assessment of the situation.
Depending on the social worker’s findings, it may be decided that:
- the family should be referred to a community service provider. Oranga Tamariki will work with the provider to help ensure the child or young person, and their family, get the help they need.
- the child or young person should work with a Children’s Team. The Children’s Team will work with other agencies and organisations and the family/whānau to assess the child’s needs and develop a plan.
- the family should be referred to a Family Group Conference
- a Family Court order is needed to support the child and their family/whānau.
The social worker will visit the child at least once every eight weeks to see how things are going.
At any stage the family can call Oranga Tamariki's 24-hour parent helpline (0508 275 293) to talk to a social worker about any questions or concerns.
You are not allowed to find out who lodged the complaint about you. The Privacy Act protects this information.
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What are my rights as a parent when under investigation by Oranga Tamariki?
Oranga Tamariki must investigate every "report of concern” it receives relating to the abuse or neglect of a child (see the previous question).
Although Oranga Tamariki can’t tell you who notified them, you do have the right to clear and accurate information about why they are investigating you. The social worker who visits you should tell you why they are visiting. You can also call 24-hour parent helpline (0508 275 293) with any questions about their processes.
You have the right to have support people with you when you meet with Oranga Tamariki (find out more about advocates to assist you).
If Oranga Tamariki is involved with your family because there is domestic violence in your household, your local Women’s Refuge may be able to provide support to you and possibly also an advocate to help you work with Oranga Tamariki.
You can ask to see the information held by Oranga Tamariki about your child at any time, by calling their 24-hour parent helpline 0508 275 293.
If you have to attend a Family Group Conference, you’ll have the right to tell your side of the story at the Conference.
You also have the right to make a complaint if you believe Oranga Tamariki is treating you unfairly.
More information is on the Oranga Tamariki website.
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What is an advocate?
An advocate is someone you choose to support you in your dealings with Oranga Tamariki. The person you select as your advocate must be someone you can trust, and who has the skills and experience to help you.
This could be:
- a member of your family or whānau
- an Oranga Tamariki staff member
- a domestic violence advocate (e.g. from a Women’s Refuge)
- your lawyer or, if you are a child, your youth advocate (i.e. a lawyer appointed by the court to represent a child or young person, free of charge).
If you are a child or young person living in an Oranga Tamariki residence, you can ask a staff member at the residence to help you access an advocate.
The most important thing is to choose someone you can trust and who is able to help you.
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What happens in a Family Group Conference?
This is a formal meeting between the social worker, the child’s family, the family’s advocate and the child’s advocate (if they have one) and relevant professionals (e.g. a psychologist). The child may attend, or their views may be presented by their advocate or in writing. The aim of the Conference is to talk about the social worker’s concerns about the child and agree on a plan of action to keep the child safe and well (which may include that the child goes into care for a limited period of time).
The plan will be reviewed at least once every six months for a child aged under seven, and at least yearly for a child aged seven years or over.
More information about care and protection family group conferences is in this Oranga Tamariki brochure
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Will the Family Court get involved?
If the situation is very serious and cannot be resolved through other means (e.g. at a Family Group Conference), the social worker can ask the Family Court to make a decision about what is best for the child. If the social worker believes the child to be in danger (see Can Oranga Tamariki take my child away without my consent?) they can apply to the Family Court for a warrant to remove the child from the home.
The child will be assigned a lawyer if they don’t already have one, and can request a support person to be in the courtroom with them. It’s a good idea to get legal advice if you (the parent) need to be in Court. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for legal aid. Your local CAB can help you find a family lawyer.
If you have language difficulties or are deaf, you can ask for an interpreter.
The Family Court can make a ‘declaration’ that the child or young person is in need of care or protection. If a plan for keeping the child safe and well wasn’t agreed to at a Family Group Conference, the Court may also decide on a plan for the child. It may also make one or more court orders to help ensure that the plan is carried out.
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Can Oranga Tamariki take my child away without my consent?
Removal of a child from the parents without their agreement is a last resort, and only happens where it is thought to be necessary for the safety and wellbeing of the child.
If either Oranga Tamariki or the Police decide that it is necessary to remove your child from your home in order to make the child safe, they can apply to Court for an interim Custody Order.
Once the child is under the care of Oranga Tamariki, they will arrange for a case to be brought before the Family Court. You will receive notice of the hearing and will have the opportunity to respond.
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My child has been taken into care. What does this mean?
If it is determined that you are not able to provide your child with adequate care, Oranga Tamariki will take over the legal responsibility for keeping the child safe and secure. They’ll do this by placing your child with someone else until they believe it is safe for your child to return to your care. Oranga Tamariki will start by looking for a suitable caregiver within your wider whānau.
If your child’s needs are complex and cannot be met within the community the child could be placed temporarily in a care and protection residence.
As a parent you are still the child’s guardian and have the right to be informed about important decisions about your child.
If your child has been removed temporarily, Oranga Tamariki will aim to allow regular contact between you and your child.
If the placement is permanent (until the child reaches the age of 18), then the possibility and frequency of contact between you and the child will depend on the age of the child, whether you support the new care arrangement, and whether Oranga Tamariki considers face-to-face contact with you to be appropriate and safe for the child.
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What can I do if I’m unhappy with how Oranga Tamariki has treated me?
You should first talk to your social worker at the Oranga Tamariki office you’ve been dealing with. You have the right to ask for another social worker if you have concerns about the one assigned to you.
If talking to the social worker has not helped, you can make a formal complaint. You can do this by filling out a complaint form. Oranga Tamariki will get back to you within 5 days of receiving your complaint.
If this hasn’t resolved the issue, you can ask for a ‘review’ from the Chief Executive’s Advisory Panel. To do this, write to:
Ministry of Social Development
PO Box 1556
You can also complain about Oranga Tamariki to:
- the Commissioner for Children (call 0800 224 453 or email) if your complaint is in relation to the child, the child's needs and the manner in which Oranga Tamariki adhered (or didn't) to best practice, or