Child, Youth and Family (CYF) is a government agency that works with whānau/families to protect children and young people under 17; manage young offenders; provide care for children and young people; and oversee adoptions.
In many areas, police will inform CYF when they have attended a domestic violence call-out and believe there is a high risk of danger or serious harm for the children living in the house.
If for any reason CYF have been notified about your children, they will investigate the case. We recommend that as soon as you can, you talk to a Women’s Refuge or other domestic violence advocate to get information about what to expect and what to do.
CYF are child-focussed: they look at what is happening for the child, and will want to find out what you, as the mother, are doing to protect your children from the violence. They should also address the person who is using violence, and ensure they are held accountable and take steps to change.
Some CYF social workers, however, do not have a good understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and may not realise what is going on for you. Having a domestic violence advocate involved to support you and meet with the social worker can make a difference.
When CYF becomes involved it does not necessarily mean that your children will be taken away. There are other outcomes from a visit by CYF; some that you might see as beneficial, such as helping you and the other parent get access to counselling, Stopping Violence, and drug and alcohol or parenting courses; organising the family to support you; and getting your children into activities and services that will help them.
Sometimes CYF will refer your family to a community agency who will continue to work with you instead of CYF.
If you have hurt or neglected your children, having CYF involved can be a way that you can get help to change your behaviour and learn to parent safely.
It’s common for an abuser to threaten to report women to CYF as a way of getting back at them, or make them afraid the children will be taken away. Don’t be afraid if this happens to you, because CYF staff can usually tell if a report is malicious or false.
CYF does have to investigate every notification, however, so if this happens make sure you tell them that you believe the report has come from the abuser who is trying to hurt or intimidate you. Try to get a domestic violence advocate if you can, and they can help you work with the CYF social worker.
Can CYF take my child away?
If a child or young person is at immediate risk of harm, they can be removed from their home. A social worker or the police can enter your home. They will usually have a warrant to uplift the child, but if the police believe the child is in immediate danger, they don’t need a warrant to come and get the child.
Often children or young people go to stay with other whānau/family members, or they may go in to foster care. Within five days of removing a child, CYF must apply to the Family Court for care of the child.
You can apply straight away to the Family Court to have contact with your child or have them returned, and then the court will decide who has day-to-day care.
Whether a child is removed or not, a social worker will continue to work with the whānau/family to sort out how the child will be protected and cared for.
If the Family Court deals with your case, a Family Group Conference should be held within 60 days in which family and others involved will get to tell their stories. The court can also order counselling, or some kind of support or services for the family.
What are my rights?
As the mother, you are still the children’s guardian, even if they have been removed from your care. You still have a right to be informed about any important decisions affecting your child. We recommend that you get the help of a Women’s Refuge or other domestic violence advocate if your children have been referred to CYF.
If you want to challenge any court decisions about the care of your children, you will need a lawyer. If your child is removed, you can go to CYF or the court to request that the child is returned to you, or that you are able to see the child.
If you have any concerns about the social worker, you can ask for another one. You can also have an advocate with you. You can make a complaint about a social worker, either in writing or on the phone. You should get written confirmation that the complaint has been received, and then CYF should get back to you with an outcome within 21 days.
If you are still not happy, you can complain to the General Manager, the Chief Executive, or the Commissioner for Children.
You can write to CYF and ask for your files under the Official Information Act. If you still can’t find out what’s going on, ask to speak to the supervisor, or ask a Women’s Refuge advocate to help you. Learn more about your rights.
Child, Youth and Family has a 24-hour, seven day a week crisis service: you can freephone on 0508 FAMILY (326 459). Phone this number if you want to report a case of child abuse.For more information visit www.cyf.govt.nz.
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