Generation of children brutalised in state care won't get public apology

State care-givers used fists, feet, and weapons to attack children in a period between the early 1940s and 1990s, says ...

State care-givers used fists, feet, and weapons to attack children in a period between the early 1940s and 1990s, says the final report of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service.

The Government will not offer a formal public apology to all children who were in state care during a 50 year period of brutal abuse.

The final report of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service has detailed the harrowing experiences of children at the hands of people who were meant to keep them safe.

The report, which heard evidence from more than 1100 people, is still under consideration by the Government.

The abuse detailed in the report covers foster homes, institutions, asylums, health camps and borstals from the early 1940s up to 1992. 

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is awaiting advice on the recommendations of the report, but says the Government ...

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is awaiting advice on the recommendations of the report, but says the Government will not be making a public apology.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said it would inform a separate panel overseeing the overhaul of Child, Youth and Family. But asked if the Government would apologise to the children of these institutions, she said: "No".

"But I do acknowledge that some people in the care of government institutions were failed and let down badly, and that they still suffer the trauma from that experience.

"That is why we now have two processes in place to offer an apology and a financial settlement to claimants."

Judge Carolyn Henwood, who headed the panel that has been hearing grievances since 2008, said:  "Foster caregivers and extended families, social workers and staff, teachers, the clergy, cooks, gardeners, night watchmen,  even other children and patients, all took part in abuse.

"We heard of people using their fists and their feet, as well as weapons and other instruments on occasion, to attack children," she says in the report.

"When we asked people why they had come, they said they wanted to be heard, they wanted an apology and accountability, and they wanted to improve state care for children, for the next generation."  

Even now, New Zealand had no official "duty of care" towards children written into its law, Henwood said.

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The report finds as many boys as girls suffered sexual abuse. In boys' homes, cell-like units were often used for prolonged isolation, while in girls' homes, "assumptions were made of promiscuity".

In foster care situations, the panel describes stories of mothers who were "street angels, house devils".

"There was often violence by the foster parents, beatings and housework and kitchen tasks, and verbal abuse. Lack of affection was almost standard," the report says.

"We heard many accounts of foster fathers who came in the child's bedroom at night to abuse that child, even when the bedroom was shared by other children."

Cabinet documents obtained show a backlog of 921 historic claims has built up. The Government is aiming to settle them by 2020.

To date, 307 payments have been made, totalling $5.78 million. It's understood that payouts vary between $6000 and $60,000.

Wellington lawyer Sonja Cooper,  who is acting for about 500 claimants, has renewed calls for a public inquiry into the abuse.

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"We still have a number of ongoing concerns for children still in care – our youngest clients are teenagers still."

She said the panel had delivered on its terms "admirably".

"But we certainly have ongoing and grave concerns about MSD's commitment, and the Government's commitment to an ongoing and meaningful process of resolution. It needs to go outside of MSD."

The recommendations of the panel have been withheld, but it is understood the report recommends the Government appoint someone to be responsible, on behalf of the state, for the monitoring of children in care.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner is already mandated to monitor CYF, and will also be extending its monitoring to include non-government residential care services and foster care services. 


Through the work of the panel, police have been able to connect alleged offenders to several victims and some prosecutions have followed, the report says.

A police spokesperson said the majority of referrals were for requests for information only.

"Often records could not be located or had been destroyed due to filing practices that existed at the time of investigation."

If victims wished to make a complaint, that was dealt with at a district level.  

"It would be difficult to say how many of these complaints resulted in convictions as each complaint was sent to the appropriate district [where the victim was based] for further investigation.

"Police have been limited by old recording, filing and investigation techniques that are not the practice of today."

 - Stuff

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