We advocate for the interests, rights and wellbeing of children and young people

The Commissioner for Children and the Minister of Social Development agree on the nature and number of monitoring visits we must complete each year. Our Statement of Performance defines how the impact of our work will be measured.

We monitor residences

Much of our monitoring work focuses on residences operated and/or contracted by Oranga Tamariki.

Residences are purpose-built facilities designed to provide safe and secure care for children and young people whose behaviour is a serious risk to themselves or others. In situations where it isn’t safe or possible for a child or young person to live either with their parents or whānau, or in their community, they may be placed in residential care for a period of weeks or months. In some situations, a young person may stay in a residence for more than a year.

The majority of those placed in residences are aged 14 or older but some who are placed in care & protection residences are younger. Some residence-experienced children and young people have told us they prefer to be described as ‘young people’. For this section of our website, we have followed their advice and used the term ‘young people’ to describe all children and young people living in residences.

Young people are detained in residences – they are not free to leave. For this reason, we prioritise the monitoring of residences.

It’s our job to check that young people living in residences are safe and well cared for.

We’re not a part of Oranga Tamariki or any other organisation. The Commissioner, as the advocate for New Zealand’s children, is independent of the government. Staff from our office regularly visit residences to find out how young people are doing – what’s going well for them and what needs changing. We give Oranga Tamariki staff and managers feedback about the services they provide and we make recommendations to help them take the best possible care of young people. We also follow up regularly to make sure our recommendations have been actioned.

Sometimes we let residences know when we plan to visit. Sometimes we don’t.

We want to know what it’s like for young people in residences on different days at different times – not just on the days staff are expecting us. Sometimes it’s useful for a residence to know we’re coming so they can get organised and make sure staff are available to talk to us. Unannounced visits give us a chance to see how young people experience residential life on a typical day where nothing has been prepared for our visit.

Residences are not like homes.

The doors to enter and exit residences are locked to ensure young people are kept safe and secure. They can only leave a residence with staff – for example, to see a doctor or take part in an organised activity. Young people rely on staff to meet their day-to - day needs, based on their individual care plan. During the day, they go to school in the residence and take part in a range of different activities. Some young people are involved in a limited range of closely supervised activities outside the residence. Every residence has a courtyard, and most have a green playing field, basketball court and gym. Whānau are welcome to visit providing this is arranged in advance. Young people can make and receive phone calls to whānau in the evenings. They can call their social worker or lawyer at any time during the day. The frequency and timing of phone calls is subject to staff availability.

Read more about residences.

We monitor a range of residences throughout New Zealand.

They are:

  • Four Youth Justice residences for young people aged 14 – 16 years, and some aged 17 years who committed offences when they were 16. Most young people in youth justice residences have been charged with an offence or are on remand, that is, awaiting their next appearance in the Youth Court.
    These residences also accommodate a number of young people who have been sentenced to Supervision with Residence by the Youth Court. In total, there are approximately 150 youth justice residence beds. These include places for a small number of sentenced young people who have committed serious criminal offences that have been dealt with in the adult court but have high needs and/or are too young to be placed in an adult prison.
  • Four Care & Protection residences for children and young people aged 10 – 16 years who have high and complex needs and are at risk of harming themselves or others. Until recently, approximately 50 beds have been available but with increased use of community based placement options this number is decreasing.
  • One Special Purpose residence – Oranga Tamariki also contracts Barnardos, a non-government organisation, to provide secure care and specialist treatment for a small number of children and young people with at-risk behaviour and/or high and complex needs.
In conjunction with the Ombudsman’s Office we also monitor:
  • Three Mothers with Baby Units. These are managed by the Department of Corrections and based in women’s prisons. The focus of our monitoring is the protection and wellbeing of babies who live in the units with their mothers until they are two years old. We also monitor the level of support provided to mothers in caring for their babies. These units are available in three different women’s prisons.

Read more about what we monitor.  

We oversee the complaints process for young people in residences.

If a young person feels that they have been treated unfairly, unreasonably or illegally while living in a residence, they have the right to make a complaint or suggestion. This process, called Whaia Te Maramatanga, is also known as ‘grievances’.

Grievances are reviewed and investigated by residence staff who have not been involved in the reported incident. If, after an investigation, a young person feels that the problem has not been sorted out, they can request that it’s reviewed by the Grievance Panel. If, after the Grievance Panel’s review, a young person still feels that the problem hasn’t been resolved, they can ask us to review it.

Four times a year we receive detailed reports that include summaries of every complaint made by a young person in a residence. From the reports we can see the type and number of complaints made. We also look at how many complaints have been withdrawn and we follow up to make sure the right processes have been followed. 

We monitor care & protection and youth justice services in local communities.

Oranga Tamariki social workers provide a range of services directly to children, young people and their families or whānau, in the community.  The majority of these are delivered by Oranga Tamariki staff from local offices. Oranga Tamariki also contracts Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to provide care services, on their behalf (s.396 of the Oranga Tamariki act, 1989).

We monitor the work of care & protection and youth justice staff, based in approximately 80 Oranga Tamariki offices around New Zealand. We also monitor the services that Oranga Tamariki contracts to NGOs. To do this, we undertake thematic reviews focused on a specific service or area of work – most reviews involve 4 – 6 locations. We assess the quality of the service children and their families experience in relation to that theme. We also assess the quality of the relationships and communication between each Oranga Tamariki office and other service providers working with children and families in the same location.

We explore the practices and policies that enable or present a barrier to children and young people experiencing high quality services - for example, the effectiveness of social work practice, organisational policies or systems and personnel.

We also monitor the extent to which the care & protection and youth justice systems support children and young people so they can remain safely in the care of their whānau, hapū, iwi or wider family group.

We publish the combined findings of our thematic reviews in our annual State of Care reports 


If you have immediate concerns about a child's wellbeing


  • Oranga Tamariki on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) or
  • Police on 111

More information about the signs of abuse and neglect and how to get help (Oranga Tamariki website)

UNCROC (The Children's Convention) reporting and monitoring

UNCROC (The Children's Convention) is the only international human rights treaty that gives non-governmental organisations (NGOs) a role in monitoring its implementation.

Under UNCROC, each government has to report every five years on children's rights in their country. The UN committee examined New Zealand in September 2016, and the Office of the Children's Commissioner made this submission.

The UN concluding recommendations to New Zealand are here.

Read the full report here