New Zealand: Royal Commission releases interim report on abuse in care

In 2018 the New Zealand Government established The Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in Care. Its purpose was to inquire into and report upon responses by institutions to instances and allegations of historical abuse in state care and faith based institutions between 1950 and 2000.

The Royal Commission has now published its interim report to the Government and has indicated that it is impossible to determine the precise number of people abused in state and faith-based care.  This is due to large gaps and deficiencies in data collected at the time. There has never been a comprehensive census or count of people in the numerous care settings. In some cases, records were not kept at all or have been lost, and even where there are records, it is often difficult or impossible to trace an individual’s path through multiple care settings over time. 

The report, described as a “difficult read” by Minister of State Services, Chris Hipkins, is based upon accounts from people abused in state care and makes the following key points:-

  • The conservative estimate is that about a quarter of a million young were abused
  • Discrimination and racism played a role with most of those abused coming from the most disadvantaged or marginalised segments of the community, disabled people and/or females
  • The abusive behaviour ranged from (most commonly) physical assaults and sexual abuse through to unreasonable physical restraint, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the use of medication and medical procedures as punishment
  • Common factors in abuse cases included (1) lack of vetting, training and oversight of those in positions of authority, (2) the absence of a clear / safe procedure for making complaints of abuse and (3) failures to respond to disclosures of abuse adequately.

There is a concern that the redress processes have not worked for many survivors; instead tending to focus on the financial implications to the state rather than providing wellbeing and compensation to survivors. Moreover, it is said that survivors who made claims were frequently disbelieved by the government agencies (who had full control over the claims process) and were forced to repeatedly describe their experiences, exacerbating the trauma.

Hipkins went on to say, “All children in the care of the state should be safe from harm, but as the testimony sets out all too often the opposite was true.”

There are no specific recommendations in the report but the ongoing inquiries will provide the basis for the Royal Commission’s final recommendations and assist in making improvements to today’s care and redress systems.  Work is already underway on other problem areas such as potentially creating a centralised claims process and considering reforms to how the Limitation Act is used.       

Church leaders will have access to the reports and will discuss how to help people who have been abused and how to improve the systems in place in order to prevent further abuse.  The Archbishop of Wellington Cardinal John Dew said “We want the events of the past to be examined transparently and openly.  We are deeply sorry for the harm caused to so many by the abuse they suffered and we continue to express our profound sorrow”.  


Written by Lyndsey Jackson at BLM lyndsey.jackson@blmlaw.com

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