What is Child, Youth and Family?
Child, Youth and Family (CYF) is the government agency responsible for making sure children and young people up to age 17 are safe and protected from abuse and neglect. They deal with complaints or concerns about child abuse (the Police can also investigate reports of child abuse or neglect), and have the power in certain situations to remove children from their home to a place where they will be safe and properly cared for.
CYF is also involved in youth justice situations (e.g. when a child or young person breaks the law) and adoption.
What happens if someone notifies Child, Youth and Family with allegations that I’m not looking after my child properly?
When Child, Youth and Family (CYF) receives a notification of possible neglect or abuse (called a “report of concern”), a social worker will make an initial assessment. They may decide that:
- the claims cannot be substantiated and therefore no response is necessary, or
- the family should be referred to a different agency, or
- an immediate response is necessary (in which case a child and family assessment will take place within 24 to 48 hours)
- a response is necessary, but not immediately (in which case an assessment will take place within 7 to 28 days).
If it has been determined that a child and family assessment is necessary, a social worker will visit to talk to you, the child, and other people with whom your child has regular contact, for example your child’s school and/or GP. The social worker may need to visit a number of times before they have enough information to assess the situation, and may wish to talk to your child alone (they will ask your permission to do this).
Depending on the social worker’s findings, they may do one or more of the following:
- arrange for a family/whanau meeting
- refer your family to a Family Group Conference
- arrange for a Police investigation (where the case involves serious physical abuse, sexual abuse, or serious neglect, or where a child has witnessed serious family violence), which may result in a criminal prosecution
- remove your child from the home
- require you to complete parenting education or receive some other form of support
The social worker should tell you of any decisions arising from their assessment, and tell you what to expect.
At any stage you can also call CYF on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) to talk to a social worker about any questions or concerns you have.
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 when I am under investigation by Child Youth and Family?
Child Youth and Family (CYF) have to investigate every "report of concern” it receives relating to the abuse or neglect of a child (see the previous question).
Although CYF 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 CYF anytime 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) with any questions about CYF’s processes.
You also have the right to have support people with you when you meet with CYF (find out more about advocates to assist you).
If you believe the child has been abused by someone in your household, or if there is domestic violence in your household, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your local Women’s Refuge, who can provide support to you and possibly also an advocate to help you work with CYF.
You can request a copy of your child’s CYF file at any time, under the Official Information Act. You can to do this by calling CYF on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459), or in writing. Requests made under the Official Information Act must be answered by the Government agency (in this case, CYF) within 20 working days, or they must tell you why they need longer to do this. If your request is turned down, you may be able to complain to the Ombudsman.
You have the right to ask the social worker to meet you at your home, if you don’t want to meet them at their office. Conversely, if the social worker wishes to meet you at your home, you can ask that the meeting is away from home. More about this is on this Women’s Refuge fact sheet.
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 CYF is treating you unfairly (see What can I do if I’m unhappy with how I’ve been treated by Child, Youth and Family?).
Can CYF insist on speaking to our child if we don’t give permission?
When a social worker visits your home following a “report of concern”, they will aim to speak to everyone who has contact with your child, and – depending on the age of the child – will wish to speak to the child as well.
They will generally only speak to your child with your permission (and the child can ask that a parent or other adult is present when speaking to the social worker).
However there are situations which may warrant the social worker speaking with your child even without the parent’s consent. For example, if the social worker believes that the parent may be the abuser, or trying to protect the abuser, they may endeavour to interview the child even without the parent’s consent.
What is an advocate?
An advocate is someone who can help and support you in your dealings with Child, Youth and Family (CYF). They can be a member of your family or whanau, a CYF staff member whom you trust, your lawyer or youth advocate (i.e. a lawyer appointed by the court to represent a child or young person, free of charge) or a domestic violence advocate (e.g. from Women’s Refuge).
If you are a child or young person living in a residence, you can also ask CYF for their list of volunteer advocates.
You can choose who will be your advocate but the important thing is that whomever you choose is someone you can trust and who can help you.
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What happens in a family/whanau meeting?
After the social worker has gathered enough information about your family situation they may decide that the child’s safety is not at risk, but that your family could benefit from some support. They may arrange a meeting, which members of your child’s family should attend. The child may also be asked to attend.
At the meeting, the social worker will discuss with the family what the family’s strengths and weaknesses are regarding their care of the child and recommend some support services or actions (such as a parenting course).
What happens in a Family Group Conference?
If CYF believes that the child is in need of care and attention, they will notify a CYF care and protection coordinator and arrange for a Family Group Conference.
This is a formal meeting between the CYF social worker, the child’s family, your advocate and your child’s advocate (if you have one) and relevant professionals (e.g. a psychologist). Participants will talk about the social worker’s concerns about the child; after which the family will discuss in private what action they can take to keep the child safe and well (which may include that the child goes into CYF care for a limited period of time).
The plan will be reviewed by CYF and the Family Court, either at least once every six months for a child aged less than seven years or at least yearly for a child aged seven years or over.
Will the Family Court get involved?
CYF (or the Police) can apply to the Family Court to request a decision if the care and safety of a child cannot be resolved through a family/whanau agreement or a Family Group Conference.
They can also apply to the Family Court for a warrant to remove your child from the home, if they believe the child is in danger (see Can CYF take my child away?).
Your child will be assigned a lawyer if they don’t already have one. The child can also request a support person to be in the courtroom with them.
It’s a good idea to get legal advice if you need to be in Court. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for legal aid. Otherwise, your local CAB can help you find a family lawyer.
It is useful to know that if you have language difficulties or are deaf, you can ask for an interpreter.
The Family Court can make a ‘declaration’ that 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 e.g.
- A service order, which requires a particular service or assistance be given to the family (e.g. parenting education)
- A restraining order, to prevent someone who has been deemed harmful to the child to have contact with them
- A support order, which can be used to monitor the child and their caregiver, or tell them not to live at a particular address or with particular people
- A custody order, which decide who will be responsible for the day to day care of a child
- An additional guardianship order, which appoints a guardian (other than the child’s parents or caregiver) to support the child and help them make important decisions.
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Can CYF take my child away?
Removal of a child from their parents is a last resort and only happens where it is thought to be necessary for the safety and wellbeing of the child.
If CYF (or the Police) decides that it is necessary to remove your child from your home in order to make them safe, they would normally need to apply to Court for a warrant before they can do this. However if they believe the child is in immediate danger they can do so without a warrant.
They may place your child with a member of your extended family; if there is no suitable family to look after your child, they may place the child with a temporary caregiver within the community, or – if this is not possible – in a residential home. How long this arrangement will last depends on your situation.
Once the child is under CYF care, CYF will arrange for the child to be brought before the Family Court.
You may be ordered to undergo counselling and CYF may set up support services for your children. If your situation improves it may be possible, after applying to the court, to have your children live with you again. More information on children being placed in care is on the CYF website.
CYF has taken my child into care. Do I have the right to appeal this decision? Will I get to see my child?
As a parent you are still the child’s guardian and have the right to be informed about important decisions about your child.
You can request to have your child returned or to have contact with your child. You can make this request directly to CYF or by going to Court. You can also go to Court to appeal the Court’s decision. If you go to Court it would be a good idea to get a lawyer.
If your child has been removed temporarily, CYF will aim to allow regular contact between you and your child.
If the placement is permanent, then whether contact with you is allowed, and how often, will depend on the age of the child, whether you support the new care arrangement, and whether CYF considers face to face contact with you to be appropriate and safe for the child.
In some cases your contact with your child may have to be supervised e.g. where the child has been severely harmed physically or emotionally. Contact can be supervised by a family member or friend, community organisation, CYF social worker or other individual as long as they have been approved by CYF.
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What can I do if I’m unhappy with how I’ve been treated by Child, Youth and Family?
You should first talk to your social worker at the CYF 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 them has not helped, you can make a formal complaint. You can do this by phone (0508 FAMILY or 0508 326 459 - make sure you say that you want to make a complaint), email or by filling out a complaint form. CYF has to get back to you within 21 days of 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 further complain about CYF to: