International literature review

Part Two: Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework underpinning this project:

  • is guided by Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory
  • is grounded in the legislation and conventions that govern the care and protection of New Zealand children
  • reflects the care and protection framework employed by CYF, which has three overlapping perspectives:[30] child-centred; family-led and culturally responsive; strengths- and evidence-based.

In the complementary literature review focusing on whānau Māori (Cram, 2011), the determinants of positive whānau outcomes are examined through ecological models that consider what Māori view as the factors that determine health and wellness.

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Ecological systems theory

This review has been guided by Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological framework, which considers the child and their family to be part of a broader set of systems that interact with, impact upon and are impacted upon by children and their families. Important elements that must be considered within this ecological framework are New Zealand’s care and protection legislation, and the relevant international conventions, outlined below.

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory identifies five environmental systems that shape child development. Locating children with care and protection needs and their families within this system highlights where pressures and supports might be present. These are described in the following table.




Examples relevant to this literature review


Where the child lives: their family, friends, school, neighbourhood, community, plus their own biological makeup (eg, physical, intellectual ability)

  • Safety of home, people living in child’s home
  • Quality of parent’s relationship
  • Support of grandparents, aunts etc
  • Strength of relationship with hapū/iwi


Connections or interactions between microsystem settings

  • Connections with social, health support services
  • Family’s relationship with CYF
  • Quality of relationships between professionals working with family


Links between the child and a social setting in which they are not actively or personally involved

  • Drug and alcohol use by family members
  • Parental intellectual disability
  • Parental mental health
  • History of family involvement with CYF including current placement of older sibling(s)


Culture in which the child lives, including ethnicity and socio-economic factors

  • Impact of poverty, unemployment
  • Care and protection policy and law
  • Access to health services


Events and transitions over time

  • Parents separating
  • Parents re-partnering
  • Moving house
  • Child maturing and achieving developmental milestones

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Legislation and international conventions

Legislation and international conventions variously applicable to children, adults, parents, families and the state set parameters around rights, responsibilities and the safety and wellbeing of children in New Zealand; in particular, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, Care of Children Act 2004, and Children, Young Persons and Their Families (CYPF) Act 1989 (see Appendix 3). The ‘paramountcy principle’ is key: the welfare and interests of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration (Section 6, Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989).

The overarching principles in Sections 5 and 6, and the care and protection provisions in Part 2 of the CYPF Act 1989 are relevant to this project. The principles in Section 13 of the Act state that the primary role in caring for and protecting children lies with the child’s family, whānau, hapū, iwi and family group and, accordingly, they should be supported, assisted and protected as much as possible. Interventions into family life should be the minimum necessary to ensure the child’s safety. Where a child or young person is considered to need care or protection, wherever practicable they should be cared for by their family, or in a family-like setting in the same geographical area where they can maintain contact with their family, maintain their personal and cultural identity and develop an attachment with their caregiver.

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Care and protection services in New Zealand

Care and protection services in New Zealand are delivered both by statutory and non-statutory agencies and responses to children and families vary depending on their level of need. CYF is New Zealand’s national statutory child protection agency. NGOs and iwi agencies also provide services to children, young people and their families who have never been in contact with CYF, although they are obliged to make referrals to CYF should the child or young person need care and protection.

CYF’s care and protection framework has three interlinking parts.[31] It is:

  • child-centred: focusing on the child’s needs and best interests, their safety, care support, wellbeing and rights
  • family-led and culturally responsive: working with families, empowering and supporting them in their primary role of carers and protectors of their children, using processes to involve the broader family in decision-making for their children, supporting the cultural context of the family
  • strengths- and evidence-based: practice needs to have a strong knowledge base and be informed by evidence; emphasises the importance of using a strengths-based approach.

Anyone may make a referral (a ‘notification’) to CYF if they are concerned about the abuse, neglect, self-harm or behaviour of a child. NGOs are also able to make a direct referral (s19 referral) to CYF for a family group conference. Families or professionals can make a referral directly to an NGO/iwi social service/support agency to provide support to a family if there are less-immediate child protection concerns.

The flowchart below outlines CYF’s differential response approach.[32]

Flowchart of CYF’s differential response approach

Key: NFA = no further action; CFA = Child and Family Assessment; FWA = Family/Whānau Agreement; FGC = Family Group Conference

CYF’s service pathway begins with an initial Safety Assessment, which determines the child’s immediate safety and whether further statutory assessment is required. A specific CYF assessment framework is used and a range of practice tools are also available to use at certain points within the assessment (eg, the Safety Assessment Tool, Child and Family Group Supervision Tool, the Three Houses). Both on- and off-site training are provided, as is regular supervision.

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The conceptual framework underpinning this review is guided by ecological systems theory, legislation and conventions and CYF’s care and protection framework. Within the New Zealand context, the following principles are predominant:

  • The welfare and interests of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration.
  • Children’s rights should be respected, and children should be at the centre of care and protection considerations.
  • All levels of the system surrounding children and their parents need to be considered and strengthened to ensure a full and sustainable response is made to care and protection issues.
  • Parents, families and the state have responsibilities and rights that need to be fulfilled to ensure the care and protection of children.
  • Families should be empowered to be fully involved in responses to care and protection issues.

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[30] [Return to reference]
[31] [Return to reference]
CYF’s Differential Response approach is a model for deciding on responses to notifications (Child, Youth and Family and Ministry of Social Development, 2008). It enables non-government agencies to become involved in initial responses to notifications through service provision particularly at an early intervention stage. Assessment and investigations of serious abuse or violence cases continue to be completed by CYF. [Return to reference]

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