Abuse victims 'silenced' by service cuts

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 08:25 06/04/2014

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Many victims of abuse and neglect under state care will remain silent, as the panel hearing their stories winds down.

And even those who are heard can expect to wait at least three years for the Ministry of Social Development to investigate their claim, the service says.

The Confidential Listening and Assistance Service stopped accepting applications in October from people claiming to have been victims, as it runs out of funding and prepares to close next year.

In a report, released under the Official Information Act, the service warned the October cut-off meant many victims could remain unheard.

"Over 50 people registered with the service in October . . . which would support the contention that there is still a demand," the report says.

There was also a "substantial risk" that victims would be left with no support as they battled the ministry for compensation long after the service had been wound up.

"Participants referred to [the ministry] can expect delays of at least over three years before their concerns are investigated and resolved."

The service was set up in 2008 to hear and support victims of abuse and neglect in state care, most of whom were in child welfare homes between the 1950s and 1992.

It has already heard from 908 former state wards who say they were subjected to neglect, severe violence or sexual abuse. The service has led to hundreds of compensation claims and 64 referrals to police.

About one in three of those who have come forward had a drug or alcohol problem, hundreds ended up in prison, and dozens went on to abuse others. Another 250 people will be heard before the service winds up.

Wellington lawyer Sonja Cooper has fought for compensation for hundreds of former state wards who had suffered abuse and neglect. She said for many the service was their only support as they battled with "horrific" and frustrating delays while seeking compensation from the ministry.

Not continuing the service was part of a push to downplay the "systemic" abuse of children in state care over decades.

"The Government doesn't want this information coming out," she said. "It's part of New Zealand's history that we don't seem ready to talk about."

But by burying the past, important information about the state care of children today was being missed. "The more we hide this information, the less we can learn for the future."

Labour children's spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the sheer mass of people had exceeded expectations and the service should stay open.

"You can't cut it off arbitrarily and say from this point we will stop listening," she said.

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But the ministry's historic claims chief analyst Garth Young said there had been only 30 new inquiries to the service since October, all of which had been referred to other authorities.

"[When the service stops] we don't expect there to be any difference for claimants in terms of the assistance they receive from us."

The ministry had received more than 1300 historic claims and was working hard to reduce delays. "The process is time-intensive, but we believe it works very well for the individuals concerned."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the service had already been extended once to meet demand and there were "no plans" to extend it again.

ABUSE IN CARE: A HIDDEN HISTORY

The Confidential Listening and Assistance Service was set up in 2008 to hear claims of abuse and neglect while under state care before 1992. 908 claims have been heard

509 claimed to have suffered sexual abuse under state care

649 alleged emotional or physical abuse

75 per cent were in child welfare at the time, with the rest in health camps, psychiatric care or education residences.

241 have been to prison

107 have gone on to physically or sexually abuse others.

78 current prisoners have claimed abuse or neglect, with another 76 waiting to be heard.

250 claimants are still waiting to be heard.

- Sunday Star Times

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