When does a child go into care?

The decision to place a child into care is only made after all other options to ensure child safety have been explored. The decision is often made by a Family Court judge.

father holding child at marae

Under the law, we are required to keep children or tamariki and young people or rangatahi safe and support families or whānau to look after their children when concerns arise. In some situations, bringing a child into care is the best way to make sure this happens.

We’re also here to help families and whānau who are finding things challenging and need some extra support when the going gets tough.

Many children and young people who come into our care come from a background involving a number of serious risk factors such as drugs, alcohol, family violence and mental health issues.

Who’s involved in the decision making

The decision to place children or tamariki into care is only made after all the other options have been explored, and when coming into care is the best way to ensure their safety and to help families care for their tamariki.

We’re committed to working with parents, families, whānau, hapū and iwi, as well as a range of professionals and agencies, to fulfil our duty to keep children and young people safe.

Read about Family Group Conferences

How decisions are made

The decision to bring a child into care is not taken lightly and is made with their best interests in mind. There are a number of different agreements, warrants and legal orders under the Oranga Tamariki Act, each of which can apply in a range of different settings.

Most decisions are made by a Family Court judge who has a full picture of the situation. If we’re concerned for the safety of a child or young person, we must satisfy the Family Court that the harm, or risk of harm, requires this action and that no other alternatives will ensure the child or young person’s safety.

In situations where the family or whānau is for whatever reason unable or unwilling to look after their child, we must satisfy the Family Court that bringing the child or young person into care is the best way to keep them safe.

Grandma reads to child

Custody orders

Before making a final custody order, a judge will hear evidence from a number of other parties. This often includes lawyers for the parents and lawyers for the child.

Sometimes, families or whānau may voluntarily agree for a child to come into care for a brief period while the safety and care of a child are being resolved. In these cases, an agreement is reached between the parents and social worker.

How it happens

In most cases there’s time to make a plan about how a child comes into care, but sometimes the concerns for a child are so serious that urgent action is needed.

Every situation is different and families and whānau play an integral part in the decisions around how the day-to-day care is provided.

For example, a decision might be made at a family group conference that the child should stay with their parent with extra support and a safety plan, or that it’s best for them to live with their aunty, or in another safe, caring environment.

Read about Family Group Conferences

Exploring other options

Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, further action might be needed to ensure the safety of the child and to provide more support to the family or whānau.

In these cases we work alongside the child’s family, whānau, hapū, iwi, other people who are important to the child, and other agencies to work out the best approach.

It might be tamariki or children can return home once things are sorted and it’s safe for them to do so. Or it might mean living with wider whānau, hapū or iwi, or other caregivers who can meet their needs and keep them connected to their whānau and whakapapa.

Every child in care has rights which are set out in the National Care Standards.

Find out more about the National Care Standards

Published: March 15, 2017 · Updated: January 30, 2023