Abuse victims let down by system

Staggering levels of historic violence and abuse of people living in state care have stunned a panel set up to listen to their grievances.

Key findings in the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service reports, released under the Official Information Act, show participants felt let down because they were taken in to care but were not kept safe.

Many reported they were not monitored and in some cases no checks were done at all.

Of the 399 people who raised serious concerns about being sexually abused in care, 100 told the panel they had disclosed the abuse at the time and had not been listened to.

The cases date back to those people in state care before 1992.

They described the perpetrators as being "everywhere" including staff, social workers, cooks, gardeners, night watchmen, foster parents and grandfathers, teachers, nuns, priests, ministers and pastors.

The reports show sexual abuse of men often led to their imprisonment later in life.

Abused men said they lacked coping mechanisms, felt a lot of rage and a sense of hopelessness.

"Participants said that you can get over a beating but not the impact of sexual abuse," the report said.

Panel chairwoman Judge Carolyn Henwood said she was "shocked, stunned and staggered" by the high level of sexual abuse, particularly against boys.

It was estimated between 20 and 40 per cent of prisoners grew up in state care and the panel is endeavouring to hear from as many as possible.

"When the state lets you down that's the outcome," Judge Henwood said.

Multiple homes were common for children in state care - and moving up to 20 or 30 times wasn't unusual.

Summary reports are provided to government ministries, but Judge Henwood said no government had ever called for a public inquiry.

"One part of there not being an inquiry is that the public don't know about any of this."

She said the findings are "kept under the radar".

The lack of safety for children being placed with risky adults, the amount of sexual abuse - particularly rape against boys - and perpetrators being right under everyone's noses had been the most shocking revelations for the panel to date.

We see "a lot of damaged people who want to do better and do better for their children and that's why they're speaking out", Judge Henwood said.

Labour's social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, said it was time to consider whether 1992 was an appropriate cut-off for the service.

"The statistics show that children, even today, are not always put in a safe environment and I have grave concerns for these vulnerable children."

"To not be able to give a guarantee children will be safe says we need to review our care regime."

Reports that some children had had up to 14 different foster parents suggested not just quality, but also stability, needed to be addressed, she said.

Ms Ardern did not see the need for a public inquiry because the panel had already completed the work necessary.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the service recognised the abuse experienced by individuals.

"Many changes have been made over the past two decades to improve our service and our response to people who were maltreated or neglected while in the care of Child, Youth and Family or its predecessors."

There were no plans to extend the panel's service to people that were in state care beyond 1992.


The Confidential Listening and Assistance Service was established in 2008 to hear from people alleging abuse or neglect while in state care before 1992.

More than 1100 people have registered with the service and funding has recently been extended to allow the panel, chaired by Judge Carolyn Henwood, to hear the remaining 267 participants.

The total cost of the service will be $6.06 million.

Of the 702 people that have spoken to the panel, 71 per cent reported serious violence and 56 per cent reported sexual abuse while in state care.

Latest figures from the Ministry of Social Development reveal that since 2010 there have been 53 children abused by caregivers while in Child Youth and Family care.

There are no published figures of child abuse by caregivers before 2010 and a ministry spokesperson said producing them would involve a substantial amount of staff time.

The panel has made 48 referrals to police based on what they had heard from participants.

Prison officials have advised the panel that more than 40 per cent of inmates in the country's prisons have been in state care and would be eligible for the service.

Judge Henwood said a more accurate estimate would be between 20 and 40 per cent, and that issues of security and communication made meetings complex. A total of 118 prisoners have registered with the service but some have left prison.

However, 60 prisoners in 15 different prisons have already been seen and a further 37 prisoners are yet to appear before the panel.

The Dominion Post