Subsequent children legislation to change

The Government has agreed to repeal part of the Oranga Tamariki Act subsequent children provisions, Minister for Children Tracey Martin announced today.

“There are times when children need to go into care for their safety – the safety and care of children must always be paramount,” Minister Martin said. “But we all know that the best thing for children is that they are safe and loved at home. Interpretation of the current law has meant that some children may have been unnecessarily traumatised and kept apart from their parents.”

The subsequent children provisions apply when Oranga Tamariki receives a Report of Concern about a child and the parent has previously had a child permanently removed from their care or has a conviction for the death of a child in their care. The provisions require Oranga Tamariki to either apply to the family court for a care and protection order, or to apply for confirmation that a child is safe to remain with their parents.

Minister Martin said the Government will remove the provisions covering cases where a parent had a previous child permanently taken into care but will retain those for subsequent children where a parent has a conviction for the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child in their care.

“For people convicted of these terrible crimes against children, the provisions are an important safeguard,” Mrs Martin said. “But for the other group, there has been concern the law doesn’t work as intended.”

A review of the provisions this year found that they are not always effective, and can have a negative impact on children, parents and whānau. This is because:

  • They are complex and confusing. The High Court has noted the highly technical language of the provisions and that they are easily misunderstood.
  • They often involve a lengthy and drawn out Court process which is unsettling for older siblings in permanent care and sets up a hostile dynamic with parents and whānau in relation to their new child. This may increase the risk of parents avoiding engagement with services for fear of having a child removed.
  • They pre-determine risk. This can encourage social workers to make decisions based on historical circumstances which do not recognise the change and progress parents make.
  • The provisions shift the onus of proof to parents and can be an added burden for parents who may be vulnerable themselves. It can be traumatic and bring up memories of their older child being removed, at a time when they are trying to demonstrate the positive progress they have made.

“The review showed that change to the law is needed,” the Minister said. “We shouldn’t be disrupting the existing care of children, and parents who make changes and want to care for their children should have a path back.

“Importantly, the changes don’t reduce the Ministry’s ability to keep children safe, using existing care and protection processes.”

Amended operational policy and guidance will ensure robust assessments of safety and wellbeing when younger siblings come to the notice of Oranga Tamariki. New monitoring and reporting for subsequent children will also support better oversight of social work practice and monitor changes over time. Interim guidance will also be developed to support social work practice between now and when the partial repeal takes effect.

“Oranga Tamariki will also do further work on developing supports for parents and whānau who have had a child permanently removed from their care,” Minister Martin said.

This will be focused on reducing the risk of possible future children requiring care or protection, maintaining the best possible relationship with their children in care and supporting them with the associated grief, loss and trauma.

The timing of changes to operational policy and practice, monitoring and reporting, and potential changes to support for parents and whānau, will be aligned with the passing of an Amendment Bill to partially repeal the subsequent children provisions. The work to support this is being done now so that the Amendment Bill can be introduced to the House next year, and once passed, the changes can be implemented together.

ENDS

Contact: Richard Ninness
Phone: 021 892 536