History never repeats?

by Molly Wilson

Between the 1950s and 1980s in New Zealand, more than 100,000 children and young people were removed from their families and put into the care of the State (Stanley 2016, 2017). These children were overwhelmingly Māori and were often removed from their families for minor offending, truancy or for their care and protection. Horrifically, a huge number of these children fell victim to emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their ‘protectors’ in care.

The government continues to defend their handling of the claims  that have been made in relation to this abuse. They deny the need for an inquiry into the claims, providing various explanations for their reasoning; the financial cost, the time it takes for this kind of inquiry and that claimants have suffered enough. They continually reinforce that their focus is on future prevention, as opposed to historic cases of abuse. However, when stating that your major focus is on future prevention of abuse, would it not be beneficial to identify and acknowledge past failings and wrongdoings? In order to improve the future system and ways of working, we first need to identify our mistakes (for examples, Smale, 2016).

The restructuring of our child welfare system was an attempt to change the previous systems under Child, Youth and Family. Thousands of dollars are being used to change a name, but a new logo will not change ingrained attitudes or longstanding discriminatory and disadvantaging policies. There has also been an introduction of a new bill that takes away the obligation of the State to place removed Māori children and young people within their whanāu, hapu or iwi. This bill only adds to existing reasons to distrust our statutory agency and does not reflect movement forward or positive change. I believe instead that the introduction of this bill undoes all of the good mahi that has been done up until this point. It takes away all of the importance of the Puao-Te-Ata-Tu Report , it takes away from everything that social workers have been fighting for and it illustrates the government’s on-going failure to understand the significance of these abuse claims in our country’s history.

If the government are intent on illustrating that future prevention is their focus and that they truly wish to rectify the current system, I believe it is necessary for them to listen to the stories of the individuals that were previously failed by the system. In doing this, they can move to deal with victims claims accordingly and make informed recommendations for prevention of future harm. The value of an historical inquiry has been illustrated recently in Canada and the importance of recognition and an apology are immeasurable. As a Nation, we owe it to the victims of abuse to stand up and to support them in asking our government for an inquiry.

Only then will we there be beneficial or meaningful change.

Only then will we ensure not to repeat our disgraceful history.

Please sign the petition to ensure our history never repeats:



Smale, A. (2016, December 9). Justice Delayed, Justice Denied. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.radionz.co.nz/stories/201825742/justice-delayed-justice-denied

Stanley, E (2017, April 9). Supporting an Inquiry Into Abuse in State Care [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.reimaginingsocialwork.nz/2017/04/supporting-an-inquiry-into-abuse-in-state-care/#more-1231

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


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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