and returning or remaining home while in the custody of Oranga Tamariki are only 12 percent of those in care, a figure that has been consistent since June 2020, we heard how the practice shift within Oranga Tamariki is to prioritise the return of tamariki and rangatahi back to their rather than non-kin caregivers.
Oranga Tamariki told us it is making a “fundamental shift in its approach to practice” and that “at the heart of this shift is the relationships [it] builds with the tamariki, whānau, communities and partners they work with”. We were told that “practice will draw from
knowledge, methods, and principles, which are by their nature relational, restorative and inclusive. This shift in practice will benefit all young people including tamariki and whānau Māori”.11
It was the perception of Oranga Tamariki kaimahi we spoke with, that because of this shift, fewer tamariki are coming into care and more are being returned home to their parent/s.
However, many kaimahi told us they felt there was pressure to avoid bringing tamariki into care and to “get them out of care” meaning that, in some cases, “we are placing children with whānau [including parents] that aren’t set up [to care for them]”. They said the practice shift, although positive, did not acknowledge the amount of time and money that was needed to achieve a successful outcome in returning tamariki home and that the current level of supports available is not adequate.
Oranga Tamariki social workers also had concerns that the shift had put much of the risk back on to frontline staff. Their perception was that the shift in practice meant they were responsible for facilitating support for parents in an environment where financial resources and time are scarce, but for the return home to succeed the demands for these are high. Some told us the return home process could feel “KPI (Key Performance Indicator) driven” rather than focusing on the needs of individual whānau and tamariki.
Furthermore, Oranga Tamariki kaimahi said that their opinions did not seem listened to, yet ultimately those kaimahi believe that all the professional risk lay with them.
“Social worker voices are not being heard, psychologists and lawyers’ voices are heard above social worker voices in the courts. We see it in education where educational psychologist voices are heard. Social worker voices are not heard as a profession.”
“For a successful return, we [social workers] need to hold a lot of risk.”
If the practice shift is to be successful, and if tamariki and rangatahi are to be returned home safely, it is important that Oranga Tamariki social workers have the right policies, tools and resources available to support the transition.
In talking to Oranga Tamariki kaimahi, tamariki, rangatahi and whānau, and looking at data supplied by Oranga Tamariki, we understand:
- policy and practice guidelines are not clear, and there is a lack of alignment between policy and practice
- nearly half of transitions home are unplanned
- nineteen percent of children who returned home were visited weekly for the first four weeks of the return home
- relationships between tamariki and whānau are important and for the most part, we heard about positive relationships.
When we asked Oranga Tamariki if they could tell us about the numbers of tamariki that are subsequently removed from their parents, Oranga Tamariki advised that “due to the complexity of the data”, an analysis of re-entry to care numbers for tamariki that were returned or remained home could not be provided. Information about re-entry is critical for Oranga Tamariki to understand the success of return/remain home care, as well as understanding areas of risk. As noted previously in our Experiences of Care in
2021–22 Report12, Oranga Tamariki committed to improving its data systems, and it is hoped that this information is available in future.
Policies that support returning tamariki and rangatahi home
Assessing safety needs is a key requirement of the
, which place a legal obligation on the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki to, amongst other matters, ensure a process is conducted that:
- Identifies the risk of harm to the child or young person or to other persons by the child or young person
- Considers the following:
- the nature of the harm, loss, or injury that the child or young person may have experienced, and the effect this may have on the child’s or young person’s ongoing safety or well-being
- the risks of harm posed by other persons who come into, or may come into, contact with the child or young person
- the nature of the child’s or young person’s level of resilience and any protective factors present in the child’s or young person’s environment
- aspects of the child’s or young person’s behaviour that may present a risk of harm, and the impact this may have on their own safety or the safety of others.13
The Oranga Tamariki Practice Centre has multiple policies and guidance for social workers relevant to return/remain home.
- The Returning children and young people safely home14 policy outlines steps needed to take both before and after tamariki and/or rangatahi are placed back in the care of the parents.
- Transitions within care15 and When tamariki and rangatahi move between care arrangements16 also provide policy information to inform decision making for tamariki transitioning out of care.
- Assessments are to be guided by the Tuituia assessment framework in a 13-part report completed by the social worker.17
Consequently, social workers are reliant on various pieces of policy to guide their decision making when returning tamariki safely home.
Oranga Tamariki site leadership and frontline kaimahi described a lack of alignment between policy and practice guidelines, and the reality of what can be delivered in supporting transitions home.
“[The current policy] is not fit for purpose. We have not got the infrastructure we need to be out there, and we know it is not going well.”
It was evident in our conversations with Oranga Tamariki kaimahi that the use of professional judgement often superseded policy and guidance when it came to decisions related to returning tamariki home. The need for social workers to do this in the absence of clear guidance has the potential for increased risk for unsafe practice when considered within the context of kaimahi telling us they feel they carry the risk of decision making more than other professionals, and that at times their views were held as less valuable than other professionals.
What is evident from our engagements with both frontline kaimahi and National Office there is a divide between what is happening at the frontline and what National Office perceive to be happening.
Internal processes within Oranga Tamariki can be a barrier
On some occasions, returning to the care of a parent means changing geographical location. This generally means a change of Oranga Tamariki site and therefore social worker.
Oranga Tamariki kaimahi told us about a lack of consistency in how different sites manage the return and remain home process and how this could affect the success of a return home, where the tamariki has been transferred between Oranga Tamariki sites.
However, we heard that overall, site transfers were positive, but also acknowledgment that “for the organisation, it’s a massive opportunity for poor practice to occur”. Some examples were given where Oranga Tamariki social workers had felt other sites had “dumped” cases on them and just walked away because they had run out of options at their site.
“It [transfers] has been [a] dump and run. One from up North, there has been no whānau researching. We had already said mum [as a placement] will not work, and all they did was throw it in our face. They transferred it anyway. You’ve got five days to accept it, the other sites will just transfer and put it on our queue, so we’ve got no choice to accept it. And it’s like holy shit! It creates a huge issue. And our social workers are left to create a plan from scratch. What’s best for the kid?”
We heard that receiving tamariki without a proper handover and communication from the referring site makes it difficult to know what the parents and tamariki need as there is no relationship or trust. Kaimahi told us this felt like having to “start from scratch”.
We also heard examples of the transferring site handing over cases with large financial requests, saying that “this is what we have agreed to, and what the family expects” without discussion or consultation with the receiving site; this left them in the position where their first contact with the referred parent/s may be to say they cannot meet those expectations due to budget constraints.
“I think that many of the tamariki go home to unsafe homes … some sites look over the home environment or the family and because there is nowhere else to go, [so] they put kids back in the home.”
However, overall, kaimahi said it seemed poor transfers were becoming “far less common” because Site Managers had become more focused on ensuring good practice within and between sites and were generally “on the same page”.
11 aroturuki.govt.nz/reports/experiences-of-care-in-aotearoa-2021-2022 Page 47
12 aroturuki.govt.nz/reports/experiences-of-care-in-aotearoa-2021-2022 Page 29