25 Aug 2015

Tolley promises apologies for abuse victims

4:50 pm on 25 August 2015

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says she will apologise to any child who was abused in state care after a report found a culture of widespread ill-treatment.

National MP, Anne Tolley.

Anne Tolley Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The final report found that people, including many children, in state care before the early 1990s, were subjected to a culture of abuse and neglect.

Ms Tolley said a lot of people just wanted acknowledgement of what they suffered and an apology.

"The behaviour of the agency during that time was despicable, and of course I apologise to anyone who was abused while they were in state care."

Read the full document here (PDF)

The report by the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, which was set up to provide assistance to those who suffered abuse and neglect in state care before 1992.

Since its inception in 2008, the service met with 1103 participants.

But the recommendations of the report will remain secret.

The meetings revealed details of alarming abuse, neglect and violence which was meted out by foster caregivers and extended families, social workers and staff, teachers, the clergy, cooks, gardeners, night watchmen, and even other children and patients.

"The most shocking thing was that much of this was preventable. If people had been doing their jobs properly and if proper systems had been place, much of the abuse could have been avoided with better oversight," the report said.

It found children in foster care were often placed in unsuitable families with little follow-up and moved regularly, with up to 40 different placements.

While some of these families were of high standing in the community, behind closed doors there was neglect and cruelty.

It said many stories were heard of foster mothers who were described as "street angels, house devils" and treated their foster children as slaves and much wore than their own children.

"Lack of affection was almost standard," it found.

It said there were many accounts of children who were abused by their foster father or were abused by older children, if the child reported this abuse to the foster mother they were blamed and isolated.

Boys' and Girls' homes were no better.

Violence was institutionalised and prison like units were used to isolate children at the start of their stay.

Boys were made to parade nude, whilst girls were subject to internal examinations.

It said many of those in the welfare system, moved from borstal to prison.

"Boys' Homes set up young people to align with a gang, for friendship and protection.

"These gang allegiances then continued into adulthood and kept the individual in a criminal lifestyle."

"Participants reported that no one held high aspirations for them as individuals. No one saw potential in them, invariably this meant these children fell through the cracks at school."

It said when placements were abusive or harsh, the child's concentration at school was affected. Some suffered learning difficulties due to head injuries and education suffered when the child was moved often.

"We saw many very intelligent individuals, but their chances of getting well-paying jobs and having a comfortable life had been ruined early on through lack of education and lack of guidance and mentoring."

If found many of those who attended the meetings had never seen their own Social Welfare files or hospital records and were unaware they could request them.

Files for 86 percent of those who attended the meetings were requested.

Whilst the report's recommendations were blacked out, the report did say there still needed to be a clearer pathway for children in care to receive help.

It recommended some kind of independent child advocacy or agency to fill a significant gap.

"If a child goes into care, they need a clear and safe place to turn to if somebody hurts them. The people we heard from didn't have anybody to turn to. It would be a positive move to offer another avenue, someone who is responsible on behalf of the State for the monitoring of children in care."

h] Call for child advocate

A Wellington lawyer who represents people abused whilst in state care says an independent child advocate is needed.

Wellington lawyer Sonja Cooper, who is representing more than 600 clients, said appointing such a person would reduce the risk of abuse whilst in care.

"There need to be independent people who monitor every child who is under some sort of order

"Who are able to go into every residence or every programme that is operated under the children's, young persons and their families act, whether that's Care and Protection, or Youth Justice, and tell young people and children what their rights are, make sure those rights are being honoured, make sure they're not being abused."

She said the Children's Commissioner had similar powers but was too busy to carry out that work.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs