The safeguards and support for tamariki (children) and(young people) who remain in or return to their parents' care while in State custody are not always there, despite this group being at higher risk of harm than others in care, according to report from Aroturuki Tamariki, the Independent Children’s Monitor.
Returning Home from Care looks at the experiences and practices surrounding tamariki and rangatahi cared for at home by their parent/s while in State custody. As at 30 June 2022, 12 percent of tamariki and rangatahi in care (627 tamariki and rangatahi) were living in this type of care arrangement.
Successive Oranga Tamariki Safety of Children in Care reports have found that tamariki and rangatahi in return or remain home arrangements are at higher risk of harm than those in other types of care.
Aroturuki Tamariki Chief Executive Arran Jones says when tamariki or rangatahi are taken out of the care of their parents the goal is to return them home, but this must be when it is assessed as safe, and the home environment can meet their needs. “We heard that for many tamariki, rangatahi and, the supports and services are not in place.”
Findings from the Returning Home from Care report include:
“Our report found that planning is important to the success of tamariki returning home, however data shows that almost half of these are unplanned. Some of those unplanned returns may be rangatahi voting with their feet, but it is important that social workers are checking on the safety of tamariki and rangatahi,” said Mr Jones.
Oranga Tamariki policy in place at the time of the review recommended that tamariki and rangatahi returned home are visited every week for the first four weeks, however data showed that only 19 percent of tamariki and rangatahi who returned home were visited weekly in the first four weeks.
Across the first four weeks, tamariki and rangatahi whose return home was unplanned were visited less frequently, than those whose return was planned (75 percent of planned returns received at least one visit in the first four weeks, compared to 63 percent for unplanned).
“We also heard that communication, collaboration, and funding across the social sector were barriers to success. Lack of coordination in the policies and practice of government agencies was also identified as a barrier to a successful return home,” Mr Jones said.
Examples of barriers across the social sector include long waiting lists for assessments and specialised support for parents, such as alcohol and drug counselling, and for tamariki, such as mental health or disability assessments. Uncoordinated policy and practice between government agencies can lead to delays in parents receiving the right support or in accessing a suitable, stable home so their children can return.
Data on the success of tamariki returning home is limited. For example, Oranga Tamariki do not know how many tamariki are subsequently removed from the care of their parent/s following a return home. This reduces opportunities for Oranga Tamariki to understand what is working well and where there are areas of risk.
“It is the responsibility of Oranga Tamariki to ensure tamariki in State custody who are returned home are safe there. Considering the assessment of risk by Oranga Tamariki, supports must be in place to keep tamariki safe and give parents the best chance of keeping tamariki at home.
“There is no visibility at a nationwide level if anyone else is checking on tamariki, and there is no reporting on the success, or otherwise, of a return home. Having those assurance processes in place will enable Oranga Tamariki to know if tamariki are safe and if the right supports are in place. This is how they can learn and improve.
“We have seen what a good return home looks like, and this needs to be the experience for all tamariki and rangatahi, not an exception. There is clearly room to do better for sake of tamariki and their parents,” Mr Jones said.