Rainbow children in care: Understanding how Oranga Tamariki can better support rainbow children and youth

Rainbow children in care: Understanding how Oranga…
01 May 2023


The Voices of Children and Young People team requested a literature review on the needs and experiences of Rainbow children in care, to help fill an identified gap in our understanding of this particularly vulnerable cohort of young people.

The review was designed to provide a foundational understanding of the needs and experiences of Rainbow rangatahi to inform and enhance Oranga Tamariki services and social work practice. The review was also expected to enable conversations with wider external stakeholders (for example, iwi and community partners) and inform how they could better support rainbow tamariki and rangatahi in their communities.


At its simplest level, I conducted a time-limited literature search resulting in 101 articles. I ‘semi-systematically’ ordered the literature via a database, and thematically analysed their content using NVivo (release 1.4 – post NVivo12 version)3. I say that my approach is ‘semi-systematic’ because I used aspects of the systematic literature review method but limited it for time and extended it to a broad topic base.

Nevertheless, while writing, which is often a very analytical stage of the research, I added a further 56 references to support my findings and conclusions and several footnoted references. That means I selected a total of 157 articles. I didn’t select these additional references in any systematic way.

Despite the large number of articles, I’ve cited 108 articles. The rest weren’t relevant to the research questions. Otherwise, I’ve added footnotes to reference definitions, explanations, and other sources of information that aren’t part of my analysis.

Methods for Chapter 1
Chapter 1 gives you a range of prevalence and other estimates (prevalences) of rainbow people across a number of different categories, experiences, and situations. I’ve used graphs to show coverage and variation of estimates across multiple studies and categories. From the graphs, you can roughly see the average of estimates, variation, and homogeneity (or lack of). I’ve also supported the many prevalences in this chapter with explanations and explorations into complex areas.

Methods for Chapter 2
In Chapter 2, I explore the themes that arose out of the thematic analysis. From adversity to solution, these themes explain why rainbow children and youth are so exposed to poor situations and outcomes, and what those outcomes are. But the chapter also shows what we can do to help them.

Key Results

  • Rainbow children and youth are more likely to be in care than non-rainbow children and youth. While rainbow youth make up 10% of the population, they account for around 20% of youth in Oranga Tamariki care.
  • Māori youth are more likely to identify as takatāpui/rainbow. An estimated 9% of all youth in care are takatāpui Māori.
  • Oranga Tamariki does not have reliable information regarding the gender and sexual identity of children and youth in care.
  • Rainbow children and youth in care are more likely to experience trauma such as physical, sexual, and psychological harm. This leads to issues like poor mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.
  • We can provide better support for rainbow children and youth by starting with:
    • adopting a Māori world view to support a culture that accepts and supports all children and youth, including those who are rainbow
    • providing children the help they need, especially for their health and mental health
    • providing social workers, caregivers and other support staff access to training and support to build trust and supportive relationships with the Rainbow children and youth in their care.
Page last modified: 15 Sep 2023