Factors associated with disparities experienced by Māori children in the care and protection system

Factors associated with disparities experienced by…
01 Aug 2023


This report is a quantitative exploration of disparities for Māori children, and is intended to generate further discussion and analysis about disparities in the system.

It investigates the following key questions:

  1. Is there measurable disparity between Māori and ‘NZ European and Other’ children before controlling for the influence of other factors? After controlling for these factors, are Māori children still more likely to enter and progress through the system compared to ‘NZ European and Other’ ethnicities?
  2. How have disparities changed since the formation of Oranga Tamariki on 1 April 2017?


Defining ethnicity

There are four high level categories Oranga Tamariki uses to describe ethnicity:

  1. Māori – children who identify Māori as one of their ethnicities.
  2. Māori and Pacific – children who identify both Māori and Pacific as their ethnicities.
  3. Pacific – children who identify Pacific (but not Māori) as one of their ethnicities.
  4. New Zealand (NZ) European and Other– children who do not identify Māori or Pacific as any of their ethnicities. This includes NZ European, European, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, African, and other ethnicities.

It is not uncommon for an individual to have multiple ethnicities, particularly crossing between Māori and Pacific communities. The ‘Māori and Pacific’ category includes children and young people who have ever been recorded as both Māori and Pacific.

This report compares disparities between two groups:

a. Māori – this group includes the ‘Māori’ and ‘Māori and Pacific’ categories outlined above.

b. NZ European and Other – this group includes the ‘NZ European and Other’ category. ‘NZ European and Other’ includes New Zealand European, European, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, African, and other ethnicities.

Note, the ‘Pacific’ category has been excluded from this analysis as the group of interest here is Māori. Future reporting may focus on disparities between ‘Pacific’ and ‘NZ European and Other’ ethnicities with Māori excluded. We recognise the limitations of using prioritised ethnicity vs total ethnicity and are looking to develop an improved approach to employ this definition in future iterations.

Defining escalations
This analysis focuses on ‘first-time’ involvement in reports of concern for children with no prior CYF/Oranga Tamariki interaction, and ‘first-time’ escalations between successive stages of care and protection involvement for children with recent CYF/Oranga Tamariki interactions. This report focuses on the following escalations:

  1. being involved in a report of concern for the first time
  2. having your report of concern referred to assessment or investigation for the first time (within the quarter)
  3. being involved in a care and protection FGC or FWA for the first time, for children involved in reports of concern within the last 15 months
  4. entering a foster or family/whānau placement for the first time, for children involved in FGCs or FWAs within the last 15 months.

Repeat escalations through the system (such as reports for children with prior reporting history) and escalations outside the ‘standard’ sequence of casework stages (such as emergency placements for children with no prior FGC/FWAs) have not been considered in this analysis. We expect that repeat escalations through the system will show similar or smaller differences by ethnicity, as any differences that appear to be associated with ethnicity will be partially or wholly captured by factors reflecting previous CYF/Oranga Tamariki involvement.

Selecting characteristics
Statistical analysis was performed in the Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to explore differences in Child, Youth and Family or Oranga Tamariki involvement for Māori children and children of ‘NZ European and Other’ ethnicities. This analysis considered demographic, socioeconomic, and parent, sibling, or child characteristics visible within administration datasets that have also been suggested by research studies as being associated with care and protection concerns.

These characteristics include:

  • Demographic: Age, gender, and ethnicity.
  • Socioeconomic: Parent income (grouped), education levels, recent and lifetime benefit receipt, socioeconomic decile, and frequent address changes.
  • Parent history: Parent history with Child Youth and Family, recent and lifetime Corrections involvement, and mental health or substance usage service contact.
  • Child history: Child and sibling reports of concern and Police Family Violence Centre notifications to Oranga Tamariki (for examining likelihood of involvement in statutory care and protection), Police-recorded victimisations, recent emergency department contact, potentially avoidable hospitalisations and mental health service contact, B4 School Check referrals, school disengagement indicators, and (for ages 13+) Police-recorded offences.

Key considerations and limitations
A key limitation to this analysis is that many of the factors considered at an operational level were not available for consideration (such as the nature of the safety concerns reported for children, child and family/whānau needs and strengths, and availability of NGO and other supports). Partly due to this, the findings highlight the association between Oranga Tamariki involvement and socioeconomic and selected parent/child characteristics at a group-level, but also show substantial variation between outcomes for individual children and across different regions.

It is also important to bear in mind that ethnic disparities are also present in many of the socioeconomic and parent/child characteristics controlled for in this analysis. By controlling for these, the analysis is aimed at identifying additional disparity over and above that inherent in those characteristics. If there is ethnic disparity in the relative
likelihood of different children moving between care and protection stages, then it is possible that this may be captured by these other factors, rather than being explicitly attributed to ethnicity.

Selecting time periods
This document has two key focus areas, each using data from different time periods. For both focus areas, no data is used beyond 31 March 2020. This is to exclude data that may be distorted by COVID-19.

a. Method of analysis on differences in care and protection involvement for Māori children and children of ‘NZ European and Other’ ethnicities

This first phase uses data over the 10-year period to 31 March 2020.

b. Method of analysis on the involvement for Māori children and children of ‘NZ European and Other’ ethnicities pre and post the formation of Oranga Tamariki
The second phase of this study uses data over two periods:

  • the three-year period before Oranga Tamariki’s formation (1 April 2014 to 31 March 2017).
  • the three-year period after Oranga Tamariki’s formation (1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020).

Note, compared to the prior release of this report, the assumed date of Oranga Tamariki’s formation has been shifted from 31 December 2016 to 1 April 2017. This may lead to some minor differences between any pre-Oranga Tamariki figures quoted in the two reports. 

Key Results

Findings in this report come from 2 key focus areas:

Differences in care and protection involvement* for Māori and ‘NZ European and Other’ tamariki

This analysis, conducted for the 10-year period to 31 Maehe 2020, found that:

  • Before controlling for other factors, tamariki Māori in all age groups appear more likely to have first-time involvements across all stages of the system, and this is most pronounced for reports of concern.
  • After controlling for other factors, differences between Māori and ‘NZ European and Other’ tamariki decrease. Nevertheless, ethnicity is still statistically associated with differences in all involvements across the system, except for first-time placements.

Examples of factors that have been found to have a significant association with escalation in care and protection involvement include:

  • lower parent income (for example, parent income in the lowest quartile, receiving main benefit)
  • parent history with Care and Protection, and/or recent Corrections involvement
  • child’s history of involvement with reports of concern, with greater weight placed on more recent reports and multiple instances of reporting
  • for tamariki under 5, emergency department (ED) contact, with additional weight on injury-related contacts.
  • for rangatahi (teenage children), recent indicators of school disengagement (for example, extended truancy and stand-downs) and mental health/substance usage treatment.

Differences in care and protection involvement for tamariki Māori and tamariki of ‘NZ European and Other’ ethnicities pre- and post-formation of Oranga Tamariki

  • Overall, ethnicity appears to be significantly associated with first-time reports of concern and referrals to assessments or investigations even after controlling for socioeconomic and other factors. This remains true both pre- and post-formation of Oranga Tamariki but does not appear to be statistically significant for Family Group Conferences and Family/Whānau Agreements or placements, with a few exceptions for specific age groups.

*This includes both Child, Youth and Family and Oranga Tamariki involvement.

Page last modified: 11 Oct 2023