The voice of the ngā mōrehu (the survivors).

by Another Signature 

The issue of abuse within state care is not a new issue, however it remains of contemporary concern. With more people coming forward about the horrors they have endured under the so called ‘care’ of the state, questions are being raised as to what is to be done about this.

Thousands of New Zealand children experienced horrific abuse between the 1950’s and the 1980’s while in state care, with over half of them being Maōri. During this time, children were taken away from negative situations and put in even worse ones. Stanley (2016) explores the abuse, from public humiliation and violence to systematic abuse. These children grew up surrounded by fear and suffering, regularly exposed to psychological, sexual and physical violence at the hands of state care workers (Stanley, 2016).

Victims continue to be affected throughout their adult lives, with this being reflected in the poor outcomes of children from backgrounds of state care abuse. Research by Thoresen and Liddiard (2011) suggests that in-care abuse leads to poor housing, education and employment outcomes with the vast majority experiencing homelessness at some point post-care. Stanley (2017) highlights the strong correlation between state care abuse and prison, with children who have experienced in-care abuse significantly more likely to spend time in prison as an adult. In a recent story on the Hui, one victim stated that he felt his time in state care was “preparing him for prison”, and another described it as “worse than jail”.

The Human Rights Commission are not the first group to confront the government regarding an inquiry into the mistreatment of children under state care, but they are among the most recent. A NewTalkNB article shows the response of NZ Prime Minister Bill English who claims an inquiry would be a “significant distraction” from making improvements for those who are currently in state care.

New Zealand’s government are claiming their decision not to hold an inquiry is one that is made for the victims, with their interests at heart. According to one article Anne Tolley said:

”The question I ask is what would we gain from an inquiry that revictimises the victims for whom we are trying to get some compensation and some settlement. It is appalling that we would put those people through that again.”.

 However, are we not further disempowering victims by making these decisions for them? What about when victims themselves have asked for an inquiry? These are people who were made powerless by the state and had their rights and their voices taken away. In deciding that an inquiry isn’t in their best interest, the state is effectively making them powerless once again.

Labour is now pushing for an inquiry with the belief that until an inquiry into this abuse is held, we can not ensure this does not happen again, or that it is not still happening now. In contrast to the Prime Ministers’ view of an inquiry being a “distraction” from improving current and future state care, Labour member Jacinda Ardern (and the thousands of New Zealanders who have signed the letter demanding an inquiry) view it as essential to knowing what went wrong, and what needs changing.

The Ministry of Social Development has already received over 1370 direct claims of abuse, yet they continue to ignore this, denying thousands the justice they have waited decades for.

An inquiry to determine the full extent and nature of the abuse that occurred is long overdue. By launching a independent inquiry, the state recognises and validates the experiences of those affected, giving victims a voice and a platform to share their stories. I believe that understanding and acknowledging the state’s failings is the only way forward, as we can not improve the future by ignoring the past.


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

Stanley, E. (2017). From care to custody: Trajectories of children in post-war New Zealand. Youth Justice, 17(1), 57-72.

Thoresen, S. H., & Liddiard, M. (2011). Failure of care in state care: In-care abuse and postcare homelessness. Australian Child and Family Welfare, 36(01), 4-11.


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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