Artwork painted by a young woman (aged 17) with experience of the youth justice system, and her social worker.

Investing in New Zealand’s Children: legislative reform


A major transformational programme is underway to deliver a new child-centred operating model for vulnerable children and young people. This includes the establishment of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, which came into operation on 1 April 2017. The new Ministry focuses on five core service areas: prevention, intensive intervention, care support, youth justice and transition support.

Making major and far-reaching changes to the care and protection and youth justice system required changes to the legislative framework to support the new operating model to work effectively.

This legislative reform was done in two phases:

  • the first phase – the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Advocacy, Workforce, and Age Settings) Amendment Act - took effect on 1 April 2017 (find out more)
  • the second phase – the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act - took effect on 13 July 2017.

Overview of second phase

The legislation:

  • changes the purposes and principles of the Act to better ensure children and young people are at the centre of decision-making while considering them within the context of their family, whānau, hapū, iwi, family groups, and broader networks and communities
  • allows young people to remain or return to living with a caregiver until the age of 21, with transition support and advice available up to age 25
  • strengthens information sharing provisions to keep vulnerable children and young people safe from harm
  • extends the youth justice system to include most 17-year-olds (those charged with specified serious offences will be dealt with in the adult courts)
  • enhances the complaints processes.

A small number of amendments took effect immediately, while the majority will come into force by Order in Council but no later than 1 July 2019. The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 has been renamed the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, with an accompanying title of the Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989.

The table below provides a high-level summary of the policy underpinning the legislation.

For the content of the legislation please see the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act and the Vulnerable Children Amendment Act on the New Zealand Legislation website.

Providing the foundations for the system



Ensuring an effective and accountable child-centred system

  • New principles to support child-centred decision making.
  • New prominence to preventing vulnerability before it occurs and promoting positive life outcomes for those who need State intervention.
  • A requirement to establish child-centred complaint mechanisms.
  • A requirement to report to Parliament within five years on the extent to which accountability settings are meeting the needs of vulnerable children.
  • Ensure chief executives work together around the populations of children and young people of interest to the Ministry.

Paper One – Overview

Paper Two – Foundations for a Child-Centred System

Paper Eight - Accountabilities

Improving outcomes for Māori

Support the new operating model to place a high degree of specific focus on improving outcomes for Māori children and young people through:

  • updated purposes and principles to give explicit recognition to Māori concepts (mana tamaiti/tamariki, whakapapa and whanaungatanga) and support whānau, hapū and iwi participation in decision-making, as well as capability building at the whānau level
  • new duties on the chief executive to reflect a commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and require the Ministry to seek to develop strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations, and report annually on the measures taken in relation to these duties.

Paper Nine: Supporting improvements in outcomes for Māori

Sharing information to better respond to vulnerable children and young people

A new information sharing framework will facilitate more timely and consistent exchange of information about vulnerable children and young people to promote their safety and wellbeing. This framework will:

  • include a presumption that when information is requested for child welfare and protection purposes it will be shared
  • allow linked data-sets of information sourced from multiple agencies to be analysed for operational purposes, and inform risk and needs assessment, service design and delivery.

Paper Six - Information Sharing

Cabinet minute

See Minister's press release

Changing the name of the Act

Amend the title of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 to:

  • Oranga Tamariki Act 1989; and
  • Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989

See Minister's press release

Supporting the operation of the five core services



Prevention: Support for families to help them develop safe, stable and loving relationships with their children

Support early responses and prevent harm across the social sector through:

  • a new duty on the chief executive to ensure the co-ordination of prevention services across government
  • updating the general duties in the CYPF Act so they promote services designed to improve the wellbeing and long-term outcomes for children and young people
  • requiring Vulnerable Children’s Plan to set out outcomes to be achieved for children and young people with early risk factors and require progress reporting.

Paper Eight - Accountabilities

Intensive Intervention: Support and prioritise children’s need for stable loving care at the earliest opportunity

Ensure early support for vulnerable children and young people and their families through:

  • new principles to support an early intervention response, with a focus on providing assistance to help whānau or usual caregivers continue to provide safe, stable and loving care
  • a mandate for the department to respond in more flexible ways to reports of concern
  • discretion for the chief executive to make family group conferences (FGCs) more widely available to children and young people who may benefit from one
  • clarify the role of an FGC and place a duty on the chief executive to develop and publish policies and practices about the chief executive’s role in FGCs.

Paper Three – Intensive Intervention and Care Support

See Minister's press release

Care Support: Support to help children and young people develop lifelong relationships with caregiving families

Meet the needs of children and young people in care and help caregiving families through:

  • new principles to ensure that placement decisions are centred around the child
  • establishing National Care Standards to be enacted in regulations
  • enabling regulations to set out the levels in which financial assistance can be paid
  • changes to court processes so that children have the earliest opportunity to be cared for and are engaged in the planning process
  • exempting foster care payments as income for tax purposes
  • repeal of sections 141 and 142 to ensure that disabled children and young people have the same protections and safeguards.

Paper Three – Intensive Intervention and Care Support

Paper Ten – Clarifying the Tax Treatment of Foster Care Payments

Youth Justice: Support that focuses on preventing reoffending and helping children live crime free lives

Help children and young people live crime free lives through:

  • increased availability of legal representation to young people
  • strengthened community-based options as alternatives to remand
  • ensuring support for transition from the Youth Justice system
  • requiring consideration of whether a child or young person would benefit from referral to prevention or intensive intervention services
  • extending the youth justice system to include 17-year-olds, and non-imprisonable traffic offences and ensuring serious offences are dealt with in the adult courts.

Paper Five: Youth justice enhancements

Paper - Including 17 year-olds and non-imprisonable traffic offences in the youth justice system

Transition Support: Support to ensure young people get the loving care and support they need to grow into flourishing adults

Ensure young people are supported as they move into adulthood through:

  • new purpose statements and principles to guide decision-making
  • a right to remain, or return to, living with a caregiver, and that reasonable efforts are made to remain in contact with young person up to the age of 21
  • extending the discretion to provide transition advice and assistance to young people leaving care up to age 25.

Paper Four – Transition to Independence – from 18-21 Years of Age

Paper Seven – Transition to Independence – Discretion to Support Young People Up to Age 25

Further information

Ten Regulatory Impact Statements were produced for this legislation. These are available in the Regulatory Impact Statements section.

Please note that some information has been withheld in these documents under the Official Information Act 1982 on the following grounds:

  • section 9(2)(f)(iv) to maintain constitutional conventions which protect the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers of the Crown and officials
  • section 9(2)(g)(i) to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions by or between or to Ministers of the Crown or members of an organisation or officers and employees of any department or organisation in the course of their duty
  • Section 9(2)(h) to maintain legal professional privilege.

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act and the Vulnerable Children Amendment Act are available on the New Zealand Legislation website.

The Departmental Disclosure Statement for this legislation is also available on the Legislation website.