Abuse, where is the government accountability?

by Jennz

Abuse has been inflicted on hundreds if not thousands of children, teenagers and adults in historic state care.  The abuse in all its physical, psychological and sexual forms continues to be felt today by its victims and their families.

More than 100,000 children were made wards of the state between the 1950s to the 1980s (Manhire & Morris, 2017), supposedly to improve their lives but in many cases surviving under state care became much more a nightmare.

Forbes, 2017 interviewed four former wards of the state.  This is a very powerful report on life in state care.  “Worse than jail” said one.  For some of them, opening up on this programme, was the first their families knew of the abuse.  They are not the only victims.  Their children are suffering, along with their partners, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, due to their inability to make healthy connections.  From victim they moved to aggressor just to survive.  Jail became their next home!

For a further insight Stanley (2017) documents the lives of 105 of these NZ children in her book The Road to Hell: state violence against Children in Post-war New Zealand.  The state masqueraded as a good parent but its violence and negligence made life even worse for these children.

But it doesn’t end there.  As late as the 1990s state funded boot camps at Great Barrier Island and in the Ureweras, carried out alleged physical, psychological and sexual abuse.  Nippert (2017) reports that in 1998, the Ministry for Social Development recommended the Urewera boot camps facility be suspended, concluding abuse at the camp was “systemic and harsh”.

How many more lives need to be harmed now and in the future.  As a country we need to listen and learn from these victims and not hide it behind closed doors as happened in the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS).  Judge Carolyn Henwood listened to 1100 people and one of her recommendations in her 2015 final report was an urgent and independent review of the data from CLAS to ensure lessons from the past are learnt (Henwood, 2015).

Aotearoa New Zealand victims of institutional child abuse have been denied an independent, impartial and transparent inquiry, unlike survivors in the UK, Northern Ireland and Australia (CLAS final report – NZs hidden child abuse inquiry exposed, 2015).  The CLAS was expressly forbidden from making public or ministerial comment. This acted to keep a history of brutality, committed by officials of the State against children, out of the public eye.  Why was the CLAS closed in October 2014?  Labour children’s spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the sheer mass of people had exceeded expectations and the service should stay open (CLAS final report – NZs hidden child abuse inquiry exposed, 2015).  She is urging the Government for an independent inquiry (Demand grows for inquiry into alleged historic abuse of children in state care, 2017)

To allow these traumatised individuals and their families a chance to heal, it is important to determine the full extent and nature of the abuse that occurred.  New Zealanders need to know the full story and have answers to why vulnerable children, teenagers and adults could be abused by a system that was supposed to care from them.  Their voices need to be heard and listened to. Pain acknowledged and an apology granted by the state, for failing in its responsibility to protect them.

Justice is about highlighting the truth.


CLAS final report – NZs hidden child abuse inquiry exposed (2015). Retrieved from https://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/Files/Confidential-Listening-and-Assistance/$file/Confidential-Listening-and-Assistance-Service-Final-Report-Some-Memories-Never-Fade.pdf

Demand grows for inquiry into alleged historic abuse of children in state care (2017, February 13). The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11799742

Forbes, M producer.Nga Morehu The survivors. (Television Broadcast) The Hui Television 3 NewZealand. 9 April, 2017. http://www.threenow.co.nz/shows/the-hui/season-2%3A-sunday-9-april-2017/125685/M13791-025

Manhire, T. & Morris, T.(2017, March 9) The Toby & Toby inquiry into historic abuse in state care. Radio NZ. Retrieved from http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/326182/toby-and-toby-launch-an-inquiry-into-abuse-in-state-care

Nippert, M. (2017, March 4). NZ Herald ‘Welcome to hell,’ abused boys in state care told. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11811285

Stanley, E. (2016). The road to hell: State violence against children in post-war New Zealand. Auckland University Press. Auckland. NZ.


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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