What is Oranga Tamariki?
Oranga Tamariki (formerly known as “Child, Youth and Family” or “CYFS”) is a government organisation responsible for keeping children and young people safe. Its aims are to keep families together and to work with them to strengthen their ability to care for and protect their children. However, social workers and the police also have the power to take children away from their families if they have good reasons for believing the children are at risk.
When will Oranga Tamariki get involved?
While you are in prison there are different situations when Oranga Tamariki may get involved:
- if you have no one to look after your child while you are in prison
- if before you went to jail someone had notified Oranga Tamariki about possible problems of abuse or neglect
- if someone (including you) tells Oranga Tamariki they are worried about your child’s safety with the person looking after them while you are in prison.
What does Oranga Tamariki do when they are told that a child is not safe?
Anyone (including you) who is worried about the safety of your children can tell Oranga Tamariki. They will investigate, and if there is enough evidence they will intervene. They may monitor the caregiver for a time and if the situation is very serious they may uplift the child. A Family Group Conference (FGC) will usually be held to try to make a plan to keep the child safe if there are some verified concerns.
What is a Family Group Conference (FGC)?
What if I’m in prison and can’t attend the FGC?
The FGC is important as it allows you to express your views about who you want your child to stay with and to make sure that you will have contact with your child during your time in prison. You have a right to attend. There may be ways for you to do so:
- Oranga Tamariki may negotiate with the Department of Corrections for you to attend under escort.
- the Oranga Tamariki Care and Protection coordinator may visit you and get your views about who you want your child to live with
- you could use other support people to represent your views
- you could use your lawyer to represent your views
- a conference call link could be set up from the prison.
If you are in prison and want to attend the FGC, talk to your case manager and social worker about these various options.
What if we don’t agree on a plan at the FGC?
What sort of contact will I have with my child while they’re in care and I’m in prison?
This depends on the circumstances. Very often the Care Agreement will provide for regular contact. Letter writing, phone calls, visits etc. As part of the agreement, Oranga Tamariki may provide money for visits if your child is cared for far away from where you are imprisoned. You should discuss prison visits at your FGC before you agree to a plan.
When will contact with my child be refused?
This will happen only rarely. It occurs where Oranga Tamariki believe that it may be damaging for your child. If they become distressed when contacted by you or there is an extensive history of abuse that has caused trauma. While you are in prison, Oranga Tamariki will tell you that they are not allowing contact between you and your child. If you try to make contact once you are released from prison, Oranga Tamariki may have a protection order issued against you. A Protection Order means that you must keep away from the child and not try to see or contact them.
For more information, see “Protection Orders against prisoners” in this chapter
If you are refused contact you can contest this and apply for contact through the Family Court process.
See “Resolving disagreements: The Family Court process” in “Parenting rights“
What sort of information can I get about my child while they are in Oranga Tamariki care?
You should be informed of your child’s progress and provided with sufficient information about their situation.
Regardless of whether or not you are allowed contact with your child, you are entitled to information about them. Oranga Tamariki write a review every 6-12 months and you, as the child’s parent are entitled to a copy of the review. You also have the right to ask for information relating to your child. Speak to your Social Worker about this, if it is a reasonable request you are likely to get the information.
You are still the guardian of your child. You have the right to make major decisions about their upbringing. If Oranga Tamariki is also a guardian then those decisions will be made jointly with the Social Worker. These decisions may relate to your child’s placement, health, education, religious upbringing, overseas travel etc. You are entitled to enough information to allow you to make these decisions, unless guardianship is taken off you. This rarely happens.
How do I get my child back once I am out of prison?
You may have made an agreement that provides for the immediate return of your child once you are released. Even if that is not the case and Oranga Tamariki has a Court order granting them custody, you may not have to go to court to get your child back.
You can make arrangements with Oranga Tamariki to have your child returned and Oranga Tamariki will then apply to the Court to get the order set aside. If there is no agreement the procedure is as noted above under “How do I get my child back when I’m released?”
What do I have to prove to Oranga Tamariki in order to get my children back?
There is no way to guarantee that your child will return to your care. However, there are many things you can do to make it more likely that your child will live with you again:
- Evidence of stability: that you have a home for your child and regular income, whether it’s a job or a benefit.
- Commitment to your child: that you have the willingness and ability to look after them adequately.
- That you have good support systems in place: family, friends, counsellors, community organisations etc.
- That you’ve addressed the issues that resulted in your child being taken away: you’ve undergone drug and alcohol counselling, anger management, parenting courses etc.
You should attempt to address the issues that resulted in your child being taken into care as soon as possible. Work on it in prison if you are able to. Identify what needs to change and make sure that what you’ve got planned meets the Oranga Tamariki Social Worker’s requirements of what you need to do.
It is best to get the Social Worker’s agreement in writing that what you are doing is enough to address the issue. If you wish to take a parenting or anger management course, talk to your case manager.