21 Oct 2020

Ministry apologises again to survivor over abuse endured in state care

6:00 pm on 21 October 2020

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has again apologised to an abuse survivor for what he had to experience while in state care.

Keith Wiffin.

Keith Wiffin. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Keith Wiffin was abused at the Epuni Boys' Home in the 1970s.

MSD's lead historic claims adviser Garth Young acknowledged to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care the trauma Wiffin had endured while at Epuni and the devastating effect it has had on his life.

"Not only for the abuse he suffered while in state care, but also through the process of having his claim recognised. He has shown resilience, courage and fortitude in pursuing his claim. Something that he should not have had to do."

Young said Wiffin's claim was the one that had troubled him the most over the years.

The ministry has denied that it ever felt claims of abuse in state care were exaggerated in any way by survivors.

Young said any perception held by survivors that the ministry thought they were over-stating what had happened to them, were not correct.

He said in fact the opposite often applied.

"In some instances, I think it was acknowledged that some claims may be underplayed, as it were, through claimants not - particularly, I guess, when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse where some people, for totally understandable reasons, aren't able to go into significant detail."

Young said all claims of abuse were examined fairly and with great care.

He told the Royal Commission social workers who made up the historic claims team were the most professional group of people you could find.

"They went into social work to protect children.

"The idea of them trying to cover up ... would not acknowledge abuse that may have been perpetrated by other social workers is an anathema. You would not find any stronger advocates, be it professional social work practice, or for the protection of children, than those social workers."

The Royal Commission heard that in October 1999, when Child, Youth and Family became a department in its own right, a number of files, both client and staff files, were retained by MSD and that some were subsequently destroyed.

In response to Counsel assisting the Commission, Hanne Janes, Young said he did not know the basis on which the files were destroyed.

"One would like to think they were destroyed in line with the archives legislation, but whether that is the case, I simply just do not know.

"Whether there was any other purpose or reason for them being destroyed, again I simply just do not know."

Young said what was known was that the lack of some files presented an additional challenge when records were not available.

He reflected on his 15 years working on historic abuse claims for MSD.

Young said it had been a privilege to be part of the work.

"The extent to which survivors have graciously and courageously opened up to us about their most private and harmful experiences has never ceased to amaze me and my colleagues."

He said they have not always got it right.

"And for some survivors, we have fallen far short of their expectations."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs