Story: Children’s homes and fostering

Children whose parents have died, and those whose parents are unwilling or unable to look after them, depend on the goodwill of institutions or carers. Opinions about how to look after these children have changed over time.

Story by Kerryn Pollock
Main image: Children in care

Story Summary

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Orphanages were not just for orphans (children whose parents had died). They also took in children who could not be properly cared for by their parents, were neglected or abused, had behavioural problems or had committed crimes.

The first orphanages were set up by churches in the 1850s and 1860s. They aimed to teach children moral and spiritual values.

There was also government aid for orphanages, foster homes and poor families.

Government institutions

From 1867 the government ran industrial schools for neglected or criminal children. Other institutions for children were opened in the early 20th century.

As well as providing accommodation for delinquent and criminal children, the government housed deprived, neglected and abused children. Some were cared for by foster families.

People increasingly felt it was better for children to live with extended family or in foster homes, and from the 1980s many institutions closed.

Children’s homes, 21st century

Children who live in residential homes in the 21st century continue to do everyday things like go to school and play sport.

In 2018 Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children ran four care and protection residences for children aged 12 to 16 needing short-term care and protection while arrangements were made for them to receive care in a family home. Oranga Tamariki also ran four youth justice facilities for young people aged 14 to 16 who had been charged with an offence, were on remand, or had been sentenced to a youth justice residence by the Youth Court.

A few charitable residential homes provide short-term for children in need of care and protection or when families are experiencing stress. The Hohepa Trust in Hawke's Bay offers family-style care and schooling for children with intellectual disabilities. 

Foster care and family homes

Some children under 16 who cannot live in their own homes live in foster care. Foster parents receive a care allowance to pay for the children’s care. This includes money for board and food, but also clothing, pocket money, and birthday and Christmas presents.

Foster care is thought to be better for children than living in a residential home. Oranga Tamariki has a pool of foster families, and also supports charities with their own foster families. Sometimes the Family Court decides that it is best for a child to remain in foster care. In this case, foster parents may become permanent caregivers.

Some children live in family homes owned by the government. Caregivers live in the homes rent-free and receive an allowance for the children. Children are usually in this form of care for a short time while Oranga Tamariki and their family decide on the best place for them to stay.

Some children have suffered neglect or even abuse from foster parents or other carers, but many receive good care. Wherever possible decision makers try to keep children with their own parents or extended family.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Children’s homes and fostering', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/childrens-homes-and-fostering (accessed 18 July 2019)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 21 Dec 2018