7 Dec 2022

Abuse in care inquiry: Victims distressed as wait for compensation drags on

11:47 am on 7 December 2022
Lake Alice Hospital

Lake Alice Hospital Photo: PUBLIC DOMAIN./ Pawful

Survivors of abuse in state care are frustrated they are yet to receive compensation a year after a Royal Commission recommended the immediate introduction of an interim redress scheme.

One former patient of the Lake Alice psychiatric hospital's child and adolescent unit said she felt like officials were ignoring and stonewalling survivors.

However, a government official said an announcement about a scheme was expected soon.

Robyn, who doesn't want her surname used, lives in the central North Island, where she tends to her animals - goats, Forest Gump and Jenny, as well as three sheep, two dogs, three cats and chickens.

The 67-year-old survivor of abuse in state care has a dream to buy a bus and, with her pets, live a nomadic life around the South Island.

That dream would fulfil a promise she made to her grandson - that the pair would travel around together - but he died in a house fire 20 years ago.

"We need proper compensation so we can do what we want to do and have a bit of a life before we all pass on. That's what I would like to see for all of us," Robyn told RNZ.

That could happen if an interim redress scheme for older or sick survivors is introduced, as recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care a year ago.

The inquiry's interim report, released in mid-December 2021, talked about "advanced payments" to seriously ill and elderly survivors, ahead of a more permanent redress scheme.

The permanent scheme will have input from survivors, but is only now in the process of being set up.

Robyn said she was worried a long wait for full redress, which could include compensation, apologies from government agencies for their actions in past decades, and other help, would come too late for some.

She still carried deep scars from her abuse in state care, including at Lake Alice's child and adolescent unit.

Robyn has never spoken publicly about what happened to her and still cannot go into detail about her time at the unit.

Like many teens and children, she was there because she had a difficult upbringing, rather than a mental illness.

But, she recalled running away, and trying to raise the alarm about the abuse, including sexual assaults and electric shock treatment.

Police officers who found her did not listen and instead returned her to the unit.

She supplied a statement to the Royal Commission, which ran an inquiry into the psychiatric hospital's youth unit in mid-2021, and was hopeful meaningful redress would happen quickly.

"Fifty years on, I just feel like we're all being retraumatised, in a different way of course, and just completely ignored. We're getting no information from anyone and we're just sitting, twiddling our thumbs, waiting, getting older.

"Some of the people that I do know from Lake Alice in the Whanganui area are unwell."

Health concerns, debts

Another former patient of the Lake Alice unit, Malcolm Richards, is facing health concerns.

He was also frustrated with the wait, especially after winning a claim of torture at the United Nations. The UN's Committee Against Torture this year ruled Richards should receive appropriate redress, but this has not happened.

Malcolm Richards

Malcolm Richards took his case to the United Nations but still has not seen any compensation. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

The 62-year-old, who was raped at the unit and given painful paralysing drugs and electric shock treatment, received some money from the government 20 years ago as part of an ex gratia payment to settle a class action.

Much of that was eaten up in legal fees and he said a quick remedy would be to give those affected what they had to pay in fees.

"The longer they delay the cheaper it is for them because more of us die," he said.

"It would mean quite a lot because I'm in quite a lot of debt. Interest going up every day doesn't make life any easier. It would mean a huge amount to get something now."

In August, Public Services Minister Chris Hipkins said work was underway.

"I've asked for options on faster payments and for options for establishing a listening service, to give survivors a safe place to tell their stories after the inquiry finishes in June 2023," he said in statement.

"I expect to see faster payment options within the next two months."

A Cabinet paper released at the same time noted the Royal Commission's recommendation about rapid payments.

"It is desirable to move rapidly... to meet survivor expectations for change and to demonstrate the government's commitment to act promptly on the Royal Commission's findings," the paper said.

"There is an opportunity to look at expanding the recommended advance payments into rapid payments for all existing historic abuse claimants with the four main claims agencies - the Ministries of Education, Health, and Social Development, and Oranga Tamariki.

"This would address the significant and potentially traumatising waiting time involved in current claims processes, even under existing advance payment provisions."

It was unclear if this would mean abuse in care survivors would not have a rapid payment scheme applying just to them, nor how much compensation would be offered.

RNZ asked Hipkins' office for an interview.

Instead, RNZ received a statement from the Crown response unit to the inquiry saying an announcement was expected this month.

A unit spokesperson said he could not be more specific about the timing.

"[The announcement] would be about faster redress payments to survivors through the current system, as the minister announced late last year."

For survivors such as Robyn, anything short of prompt compensation will be a disappointment.

"I've kept my mouth shut for 50-odd years and said nothing until we were asked to produce a statement for the Royal Commission," Robyn said.

"I feel now as though we're being abused again in a different way, and it's being swept under the carpet and 'oh well, they'll wait.' No, we can't wait."

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