Care & protection of children

If a Child, Youth & Family social worker or the police think a child is being harmed or neglected, or is likely to be harmed or neglected, they can ask the Family Court to legally recognise that the child is in need of care and protection. This is called an application for a care & protection declaration.

If the social worker or the police think the child is in immediate danger, the Family Court can make an interim Custody Order without talking to the child’s parent, guardian or caregiver first. This means the child will be put in the care of Child, Youth & Family until the judge can make a decision about whether to make the declaration.

What happens after the application is given to the Family Court

If you’re the child’s parent, guardian or caregiver:

  • you’ll be given a copy of the application for the care & protection declaration (and a copy of the interim Custody Order if the child has been put in the care of Child, Youth & Family)
  • you’ll be told when the matter is going to be heard in the Family Court.

Find out more about how you can respond to the application

The Family Court will choose a lawyer for the child and let you know who that lawyer is. If the child is 12 years or older, their lawyer will give them a copy of the care & protection application.

Family group conference

A family group conference is usually held before a social worker or the police apply to the Family Court for a care & protection declaration. If this didn’t happen, a family group conference will need to be held before the Family Court decides if it will make a care & protection declaration.

A family group conference is a formal meeting between the child’s parents, guardians or caregivers and extended family or whānau, any agencies or people involved and the lawyer for the child. Everyone talks about the concerns for the child and tries to find a solution.

The care & protection coordinator of the family group conference must write down any decisions, recommendations and plans that are made at the conference. These will be included in a plan that is given to the Family Court judge. (The matters discussed at the family group conference, except for the plan, aren't able to be discussed at court.)

Find out more about family group conferences on the Child, Youth & Family website (external link)

Overview of process for a care & protection declaration

  1. CYF or police applies for care & protection declaration
  2. If application is urgent, Family Court makes an interim Custody Order and child put in CYF care
  3. Family Court appoints lawyer for the child. Lawyer shows child the application if 12 years or over
  4. Parent, guardian or caregiver told about application and court hearing (and family group conference if it wasn't held before application was made)
  5. Parent, guardian or caregiver files and serves response papers within 7 days, if they want to respond
  6. Family group conference held if needed. Coordinator writes down all decisions, recommendations and plans agreed at conference and gives to Family Court
  7. Family Court decides whether to make the declaration that the child needs care & protection
  8. If declaration made, social worker files report and plan with Family Court to review child’s situation every 6 or 12 months

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