Legislation - Q and As

What’s changed for the five agencies responsible for vulnerable children?

The Chief Executives of the Ministries of Education, Health, Justice, Social Development and NZ Police are now jointly accountable for working together to develop, deliver and report on a cross-agency plan to protect vulnerable children and improve their wellbeing.

These agencies (and all providers they contract to deliver children’s services) must have child protection policies that guide staff to identify and report child abuse and neglect. The new policies will directly affect frontline staff in the way that they work.

Which agencies are required to adopt child protection policies?

To support better identification of child abuse and neglect, the Act requires certain state services, District Health Boards and school boards, and their contracted and funded providers, to have child protection policies in place. The state services covered by this requirement are the Ministries of Education, Health, Justice, and Social Development, NZ Police, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and Te Puni Kōkiri.

What about business, community and volunteer organisations?

Unless they are contracted or funded by one of the above agencies to deliver children’s services, it is voluntary for non-government funded organisations to follow the same guidelines. It is expected that many will take part so that they are seen to hold the same high standards. Support, guidance and advice will be provided to help any business and volunteer organisations who want to meet the new higher standards.

How will these policies make a difference?

Many people who work with children are in a position to recognise abuse or neglect and take action – however not everyone knows what to do about it. Policies will raise awareness and help make it clear.

What is the timeframe for child protection policies?

The requirement for child protection policies applies “as soon as is practicable” for government-funded service providers. The one exemption to this is schools, which will be subject to the requirements at a later date, up to two years from commencement of the Act.

We recognise that the new requirements will take time to embed, and so we will be working with each sector over the coming months to identify the level of support required to improve practice.

What will the child protection policies need to include? Do you have an example of one?

Child protection policies will need to contain provisions on identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect. Agencies are currently working together to identify other useful information that might also be recommended for inclusion. The Children’s Action Plan will provide guidelines and model policies to ensure good practice and consistency.

Will agencies need to check with contractors that they have child protection policies?

Agencies subject to the requirement must ensure that their contracting and funding arrangements with organisations that provide children’s services include a requirement that services adopt a child protection policy as soon as is practicable.

Information about how to implement this requirement will be made available by sector agencies over the coming months.

Safety checking regulations

What does safety checking involve?

  • Identity verification - proof people are who they say, including former identities
  • Information requirement – thorough Police, records, history & behaviour checks
  • Risk assessment – judgement based process for interviewing staff
  • Periodic re-assessment – every three years

Why do we need safety checking?

Child abusers have been known to seek jobs where they can work with children. That’s why legislation has been passed that strengthens safety checking requirements for children’s workers - so that people who work with children will keep them safe. 

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 sets clear expectations for consistent safety checking across the children’s workforce. Consistent safety checking (sometimes referred to as vetting and screening) can help assess whether people pose a risk to children, and provide a way of preventing known abusers from entering the children’s workforce.

Who does safety checking apply to?

Everyone in the children’s workforce employed (or contracted) by central and local government (roughly 280,000 people) to deliver services to children will be subject to safety checking.  The same safety checking requirements will be phased in for the children’s workforce employed or contracted by local government at a later date.

What about the workforce restriction?

The Act contains a workforce restriction to prevent people with relevant serious convictions from working alone with children. There will be an exemption process to allow employees to make a case for themselves if previous convictions are revealed that meet the criteria for the workforce restriction.

What is the timeframe for standard safety checks?

We’re phasing the safety checking requirements in over three to four years to give people time to have their entire workforce checked. Phase one on 1 July will require State-funded employers to ensure core children’s workers starting a job with them as employees or contractors are safety checked before they start work.  

Safety checking requirements will be staggered for State-funded children’s workers: 

  • 1 July 2016 new non-core workers starting a job or contract
  • 1 July 2018 existing core workers (i.e., those currently employed, or engaged as a contractor)
  • 1 July 2018 existing non-core workers from 1 July 2019.

The phased safety checking requirements for local authorities and the organisations they fund to provide children’s services will be:

  • From 1 September 2016, new core children’s workers starting a job or contract must be safety checked before they start work.
  • From 1 September 2017, new non-core children’s workers starting a job or contract must be safety checked before they start work.
  • By 1 September 2019, existing children’s core workers (i.e., those currently employed or contracted) must have been safety checked.
  • By 1 September 2020, all existing non-core children’s workers must have been safety checked.

What’s the definition of the children’s workforce?

The children’s workforce is made up of all workers who have regular or overnight contact with children, without a parent or guardian being present, as part of their role. Core children’s workers work alone with, or have primary responsibility or authority over, children. Examples of roles that may meet these definitions include teachers, nurses and youth counsellors.

Core workers are subject to a workforce restriction if they have specified convictions.

Non-core children’s workers are paid or funded by state sector agencies and have regular, but limited, child contact (examples of roles that may meet this definition include: non-teaching school staff, general hospital staff and many social and health workers).

In both cases, children’s workers need to be paid workers, or to be undertaking unpaid work as part of an education or vocational training course, for the legislative requirements to apply.

While vetting and screening specifically applies to paid employees of government-funded services, the Children’s Action Plan aims to drive change right across the workforce.

What are the processes for standard safety checks? Where can we find them?

The processes for standard safety checking will be developed over the coming months, and will be subject to consultation with sector representatives. Once finalised, agencies will work with their sectors to help them implement this new process.

I see the Act contains a list of “specified offences” – what should I do if an employee has a conviction for one of these offences? 

In addition to safety checking requirements, the Act prohibits employing people with specified convictions from working in core worker roles – the workforce restriction. This requirement starts at the same time as the safety checking requirements.

The restriction is subject to an exemptions process. Affected core workers who want to stay in the children’s workforce and anyone with a specified conviction who wants to be in a core worker role will need to seek an exemption. More information about exemptions will be made available for affected employers and employees in the coming months.

What will happen to those who don’t comply with the legislation?

We expect enforcement of the workforce restriction in the first years of operation will be educative in approach. We are offering communication, advice and support in the first instance to build the knowledge base and capability of the workforce. 

Where organisations are monitored or audited by a government agency, compliance may be checked. Charges may be laid where there is on-going non-compliance. 

What support is there to enact this legislation?

We recognise that the new legislation will take time to embed. Government agencies will be working with each sector to identify the level of support required to improve practice over the coming months.

What do I do if I suspect abuse? What can my organisation do to identify and respond to abuse?

We all have a role to play in keeping New Zealand children safe and strong. Preventing child abuse and neglect is everyone’s responsibility. If you are worried about a child that you know, ask yourself what you can do to help, get in touch with a community agency or contact Child, Youth and Family.

Organisations that want to understand more about safeguarding children accessing their services, including information on identifying and responding to abuse, should see the Child, Youth and Family Working Together Guide (external link) .

Who do we contact if we need help?

If you have any questions, please email:  admin@childrensactionplan.govt.nz

Amendments to Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989

What’s changing for seriously abusive parents who go on to have more children?

Currently when another child is born into this situation Child, Youth and Family must show the Court that the child is likely to suffer harm. The amendments reverse the onus of proof so the parent must demonstrate that they are safe to parent the new child.

Child, Youth and Family will make a safety assessment. The Family Court will have oversight of every case and will ultimately make the final decision.

Why is this needed?

There are parents who’ve had a child permanently removed previously because of abuse or neglect, or who’ve been convicted of murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a previous child. Past behaviour can be a good indicator of future behaviour. This is a tool to help protect children.

Who will apply it and to whom?

Parents who have previously had a child permanently removed from their care due to abuse or neglect, or who have been convicted of the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a previous child, when they go on to have or care for another child.

  • Around 300 children a year are placed into care having been born to parents who’d already had a child permanently removed from them.

What say does the parent have?

They have a chance to demonstrate they’re safe to parent and can appeal decisions.

What are the guardianship changes for children in Home for Life?

New guardianship orders will enable guardianship rights of birth parents who unfairly disrupt their children’s lives in the new placement to be curtailed.

How often and how does this occur?

In a variety of ways and frequently. Some parents who’ve had a child or children removed because of serious abuse or neglect continue to disrupt the new family home. This can mean upsetting and aggressive contact visits, vetoing overseas holidays, and vexatious and prolonged challenges to Court orders imposed to protect the child.

Isn’t this a big step to take?

Yes it is and would only happen when the Family Court decided it was in the child’s best interests to curtail those rights. These children deserve to live in a safe, calm environment where they have a chance to thrive without disruption.

How will it work?

Home for Life caregivers may apply to the Family Court for a special guardianship order and the Court will decide which guardianship rights parents and carers will have.

How long will the guardianship order last for?

The guardianship order will last until the child turns 18 or until the Family Court changes the order.