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Foster Care

Foster Care

Foster care is where children or young people are cared for by people who are not their parents or family members.  Placement with a foster family is usually arranged by the Ministry for Children – Oranga Tamariki (OT), the government child protection agency.

New Zealand law and government policy sets down basic standards (“rules”) that apply to you so that you are safe when you’re in foster care.  If these standards are not met, the law can help you get things changed.  If you feel that your voice is not being heard or that your complaints are being ignored, there are legal ways in which you can assert your rights.

This page tells you about your rights in foster care, and how you can get things changed if you feel you are being treated unfairly or are unhappy with your care.

What is foster care?

Foster care is where children or young people are cared for by people who are not their parents or family members. Placement with a foster family is usually arranged by Ministry for Children – Oranga Tamariki (OT), the government child protection agency. Sometimes the arrangements are made by private agencies such as Barnardos, the Open Home Foundation or an iwi social services agency.

How does a child enter foster care?

Sometimes a child’s parents or family make a private arrangement with a family friend.  More often, a child is placed in foster care when:

  • A Family Court Judge decides that the child is in need of care and protection and places them under the custody or guardianship of OT or a non-government welfare agency.
  • A Youth Court Judge decides that a young person must be cared for by OT until the young person’s court case ends.
  • A parent signs an agreement with OT, giving OT the power to place the child in foster care either as a short-term or longer-term arrangement.

What sort of arrangements can be made about my care with OT?

The arrangements are for temporary or extended care:

 temporary care agreement lasts for 28 days but can be extended for a further 28 days.
An extended care agreement can continue for up to 6 months (if you’re under 7 years old) or 12 months (if you’re 7 years and older).

Although your consent is not required for a temporary care agreement, OT must ask you for your views about being placed in foster care and must take them into account. No extended care agreement can be made without your consent if you are 12 years of age or older.

How are foster parents chosen?

OT try to find foster parents who live not too far from where your parents and family members live. They will also try to choose a family that is able to meet your particular needs. There aren’t always enough people who are both suitable and able to provide foster care so sometimes it can take OT awhile to find an option that will work for you.

How will OT support me with my new foster parents?

When you meet your foster parents for the first time, your social worker should take you to their home and introduce you.  The social worker should keep in touch with you in the early days of the placement to help you settle in and sort out any problems that arise.  After you are settled in, you should receive regular visits from your social worker.

What policies do OT follow when choosing foster parents for you?

Your welfare and interests are the most important consideration and OT takes great care in choosing caregivers.
They should:

1.       Place you with a family where you will be safe and will be well treated.
2.       Arrange a placement that gives you continuity.
3.       Find caregivers who share your cultural background where possible.
4.       Find a placement where your personal and cultural identity will be recognised and respected.
5.       Arrange a placement where you will feel loved and have a sense of belonging.
6.       Be placed in a situation where you can have regular contact with your parents and other family members.

What does arranging an OT placement that gives you continuity mean?

It means OT must try to find a foster family in the city, neighbourhood or community where you have lived previously. To place you where you can continue to have contact with your parents, brothers or sisters, friends and other family members where possible.  You should be allowed to have your clothes, toys, personal possessions and pets with you wherever possible. If possible, you should continue going to the same school.

How would my identity be respected in a OT placement?

You should wherever possible be placed with a family of the same race, culture and religion as you. For example, if you are Māori, preference will be given to a placement with a family that have links with your whanau, hapu or iwi.

Your personal identity includes the right to be called by your own name and to be treated as an individual with your own personality and preferences.  Your cultural identity involves having your nationality and culture recognised, accepted and supported by your foster parents and members of their family and community.

How should my foster family treat me?

A foster family should provide you with more than just a bed and regular meals.  You should be accepted as a full member of the new family and not be treated differently from other children in the household. The Caregivers Handbook says caregivers should give you a home where you grow up as part of the family. Caregivers should send the important message to their foster children that they are loved and valued, and that they belong through positive messages and good modelling. Caregivers should offer you support, guidance and understanding.

Can I still meet with my birth family if I go into foster care?

You should be able to have direct contact with your parents on a regular basis unless it is shown that such contact is not in your best interests. That means you should be able to visit or receive regular visits from your parents or have contact with them by phone, email or text message at regular intervals in most circumstances. You will still be a part of your birth family.

Can I have a room of my own in foster care?

You must be provided with a separate bed.

Over the age of one, foster children shouldn’t share a bedroom with their foster parents unless there is a need to do so and this arrangement has been agreed with their social worker.
OT prefer that children six years and older do not share a bedroom with a child of the opposite sex.

You should get your own bedroom where possible, but living areas will be shared.

Who pays for my clothes and shoes when I’m in foster care?

OT meets the reasonable cost of your clothes and shoes.  If you do not have adequate clothing when you come into care, an emergency payment can be made to your foster parents to buy the clothing you need.  Once you have been in care for three months your foster parents will receive a clothing allowance for you. This is paid in advance in January, April, July and October of each year. The allowance should provide you with a reasonable quantity and range of clothing and also a travel bag.

If you brought clothes with you, you can keep those.

Does my caregiver or I choose my clothing in foster care?

Although the clothing allowance is paid to your caregivers, you have a right to be consulted about the items of clothing to be purchased. Your caregiver will probably prefer to buy a range of items rather than one or two expensive items.  It is best to talk to your caregiver if you have any preferences. As you get older you should be given a greater say in the choice of clothes and shoes.

If you have to start at a new school, a special payment can be made to your caregivers to meet the cost of the new school uniform.

Who is responsible for any medical or dental treatment when I’m in foster care?

Your caregiver will be responsible for arranging any health care that you need and will make sure that you receive regular dental treatment. OT will pay for your doctors’ and dentists’ visits.

If you are 16 or older, you can always consent to or refuse any medical or dental treatment. Under that age, you can consent to or refuse medical treatment if you are old enough and mature enough to weigh the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment and make a balanced judgment.

You have a legal right to consent to an abortion at any age.

Who can make decisions about my medical or dental treatment when I’m in foster care?

Most doctors won’t provide major treatment to under 16-year-olds unless consent is given by a parent or legal guardian.  If you’re under a guardianship order, your social worker will be able to give the consent on behalf of OT.  If you’re under a custody order, a parent or legal guardian may have to give consent.

In most cases, you will make decisions about any major health or dental treatment after talking the issue through with your doctor, your caregivers and your social worker.

Can my caregivers in foster care smack or hit me?

No,  your caregivers are not allowed to use physical punishment (e.g. smacking, kicking, hitting) or any other form of punishment which is cruel, abusive or humiliating such as verbal abuse, insults, cold showers or baths, not allowing you to shower, to name a few.

They can set boundaries and expect you to keep to the rules of the house and they can punish you for breaking the rules. Recommended techniques include sending you to your room, grounding you for a reasonable period, withholding treats or taking away special privileges.

Can I travel overseas with my caregivers or on a school trip while in foster care?

You will usually be able to travel on holiday with your caregivers or on a school trip, but if an overseas trip is planned, the consent of one of your birth parents or legal guardians will usually be required. OT should arrange for this.

If you don’t already have a passport, you will need to get one to travel overseas. If you are under a sole guardianship order, the application must be signed by a senior officer of OT.  If you are under a shared guardianship order or a custody order, your birth parent or guardian must sign the application.  These will take time so you should tell your social worker as soon as you plan to travel overseas.

What responsibilities do I have at a foster home?

A foster child is considered as part of the family, so it does not mean that you can do whatever you want.  Like any other parents, foster parents are entitled to set rules and expect foster children to behave according to those rules.  Most foster parents are dedicated people who look after children because they want to help children who cannot live with their parents and family.  It is important that you give support and respect to your caregivers and do your fair share of chores around the house.

Do I have to do washing up, lawn-mowing or other jobs around the house when I’m in foster care?

Being part of a family carries responsibilities as well as rights and you have to do your fair share of jobs in the home and garden. You will be expected to make your own bed, keep your room tidy, help with the dishes and generally help your caregivers with housework and outdoor tasks.  You should not be expected to spend more time on chores than the caregivers’ own children of about the same age.

Foster parents can’t make you work in their business, do heavy, dangerous or exhausting work or take on work which interferes with your schooling.

What happens if I disagree with my foster family?

If you are unhappy about any aspect of your care, talk to your caregivers first.  Every family has occasional arguments and differences of opinion and things can usually be sorted out by discussion and negotiation.  It is where things have become really bad or you can’t talk to your caregivers that your legal rights become important. If that is the case, you should talk to your social worker or counsellor. If you don’t have one, you can talk to your school counsellor, or you can call OT.

You can also talk to someone at Youthline on 0900 37 66 33, Kidsline or What’s Up both available on 0800 WHATSUP (0800 942 8787).

What should I do if my caregivers or someone in the household of my foster care abuses or harasses me?

Abuse is anything that someone does to you that damages you physically, emotionally, mentally or sexually. Harassment includes where someone makes sexual or embarrassing remarks to you, watches and hangs around you, or stalks you.

If you are abused or harassed by someone in the household or by a relative or friend of your caregivers you should immediately contact your social worker or, if you cannot make contact with your social worker, inform a member of your family, your school guidance counsellor, your lawyer or the police. It is not ok to be abused!

Who can I call if something bad happens to you while you are in foster care?

If something bad happens to you and nobody seems willing to help you, then you can contact the following people:

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