Care of children

How can guardianship or family issues affect a school?

A number of guardianship or family issues may involve the school. Generally schools and their staff are not expected to arbitrate or mediate in family issues. Most are best resolved by families themselves, or the Family Court if the family cannot reach agreement. 

Neutrality should characterise a school’s response to family issues. Schools are entitled to ask to see court documents if these are being referred to in the context of school decision making.

Most court orders deal with the responsibilities of the adults involved in a child’s life and do not direct the actions of a school.

  • For example, while a court order may say that both parents must agree on a child’s school, it is not the role of any school to police or enforce this requirement.
  • A parent who is upset with another family member’s actions must take that up with the other family member or with the Family Court.
  • If, however, you are concerned about the safety of any child, you must contact Oranga Tamariki or the police immediately.

Guardianship issues relevant in a school context

Health and medical treatment

Guardians are entitled to be made aware of any need for urgent medical treatment or life-threatening situations.

Informing guardians of a medical emergency should not prevent emergency assistance being provided. In such circumstances, calling an ambulance may be the first action.

  • If the school has reason to believe there is no cooperation between the guardians, and the school has been asked to inform both guardians of any important issues, then the school should contact both guardians in the event of a medical emergency.
  • Where there is no cooperation between guardians, both should be advised of outcomes of hearing and vision tests and whether a child needs to attend remedial courses such as reading recovery.


Where religious education is provided at the school and there is cooperation between guardians, then it is sufficient that one guardian consents to the child's attendance at religious education.

  • If the parents are separated and the school has reason to believe there is no cooperation between the guardians, then the school should seek the permission of both guardians.
  • If the guardians disagree on whether the child should attend religious education, then one or other parent can issue proceedings in the Family Court to have a judge decide the issue.

Children's names

It is not unusual, where one parent has day to day care, for the parent to seek to change the child's surname.

  • Name changes where there is no obvious dispute are not an issue.
  • Where there is an issue, a neutral approach would be to leave the name on school systems or databases unchanged until the issue is resolved by the family or by the Family Court.
  • Note that multiple names can be entered in ENROL, including the name on the child’s birth certificate or passport, a preferred name or aliases.

Updated: October 2011

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