Failure to have state care abuse inquiry: “sticks like a knife in my guts”

The Prime Minister and Government ministers keep refusing to have an inquiry into historical cases of abuse of children while in State care (there are claims that abuses are still occurring).

Paora Crawford Moyle (at E-Tangata) describes what state care was like for her, and how “it sticks like a knife in my guts” whenever she hears a refusal to have an inquiry.

Every time Anne Tolley and Bill English talk about the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, or oppose an inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care, it sticks like a knife in my guts.

I am Ngāti Porou through my mother, and I’m Weira — Welsh — through my father. After spending 14 years in state care, and 25 years in social work, I consider myself an expert on what it is truly like for a child with Māori whakapapa to grow up separated from all that intrinsically belongs to them.

I was five when I was taken into state care, and 18 when I was finally able to escape it. My mother, miserable and unwell, had left us, for her own survival as well as ours, to escape my father’s violence. She was deemed to have “abandoned her children”, and so my father was awarded legal custody of us.

He then applied to Social Welfare to have us temporarily placed in its care. On my fifth birthday, he took me and my two brothers (my older sister was placed with other caregivers) to a children’s home, and left, promising to be back for us soon. I waited every day for weeks and months after that, but it would be many years before I saw him again.

Over the years, other children came and went, but my siblings and I stayed in those homes. To everyone who came to visit and view the “underprivileged” children, we looked well adjusted and cared for.

But our experience contradicted appearances and we suffered things children are not supposed to: psychological, sexual, and other physical abuse over many years. It still makes me sick to say that.

She goes on to describe how Maori children were subjected to institutionalised racism.

We are survivors, although none of us came through that experience unscathed. Even after I left state care, the trauma followed me. For many years, I tried to fill the emptiness with drugs and alcohol, and toxic relationships.

But, as my brother Tipene said to me: “Our stories have to be told. How would people know what it’s like for a child to go through state-imposed trauma unless we all tell our story?”

There are still thousands of kids in state care who don’t have a voice. And too many of them are Māori. According to the Children’s Commissioner, Māori make up 61 percent of all kids in state care and 71 percent of the total in youth justice residences.

If that isn’t institutional racism, what is?

There may be institutional racism, but there also seems to be a disproportional problem in Maori families – probably a minority of families but far too prevalent.

Problems continue:

Anne Tolley has ignored multiple recommendations to establish strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations. Instead her ministry consults and engages with and privileges organisations like Barnardos and Open Home Foundation.

The refusal of Government to have an inquiry obviously hurts.

Bill English, interviewed on The Hui, denied again the need for an inquiry into the state’s epic abuse of children in care. What this says to survivors is: “It didn’t happen.” Or “You weren’t beaten or raped that badly”.

It sticks like a knife in our collective guts. And while it’s fantastic that Susan Devoy and others are calling for the inquiry, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Māori have been calling out state abuse of our mokopuna for decades. For example, in the landmark Puao-te-Ata-tu report in 1988.

Bill English and Anne Tolley keep referring to April 1 when the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will kick in and miraculously make children safe. That’s like saying cigarettes are safe because Big Tobacco says it is.

Āe, we absolutely need an inquiry to know the scale of the state’s historical abuse on children. Without it, the cogs in the machine keep churning, trucking and trafficking.

English has changed his mind on a number of issues – like Super, like charging for water. Perhaps he will think again about how to deal with this.

 

Claim for state welfare abuse inquiry to Waitangi Tribunal

There is growing pressure to have an inquiry into historic abuse of children in state welfare. It is claimed this disproportionately affected Maori children and a claim for an inquiry has now been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal.

Two weeks ago: Inquiry a ‘start’ in addressing institutional racism

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy believes children were more likely to be taken off their families and put into state homes if they were Māori.

Dame Susan and the Human Rights Commission want the Government to set up an inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care.

Dame Susan said uplifting Māori children from their families for trivial reasons or no reason at all would be the very definition of institutional racism. Only an inquiry would determine whether the policy was racist.

People who had been in state care, experts and the homes themselves had said children were more likely to have been taken from Māori or poorer families, she said. If New Zealand was going to address institutional racism in all parts of society an inquiry would be a “really good place to start”.

Dame Susan said by the 1970s, almost half the children in state care were Māori, and a generation later more than half the prison population was Māori, many of them former wards of the state.

A week ago: Govt spends $700k fighting state abuse compo claim

The government has racked up nearly $700,000 in legal fees fighting a compensation case over abuse that happened in state care.

The victim, known only as X, was sexually abused by another resident while a ward of the state in the early 2000s.

Documents show that over 18 months, the government spent $336,000 on Crown Law and $351,000 on external counsel.

Cooper Legal partner Amanda Hill, whose firm was acting for the victim, said the amount of compensation X will eventually get will not even come close to what the Crown is paying to fight the case.

That’s a quite sad use of money in one case, but it’s a much bigger issue.

The case was just one of 700 that Ms Hill’s firm was currently handling.

Ms Hill said it was one of several cases that were advancing towards a trial and the government was fighting hard to prevent that happening.

“The reason it’s doing [so] is because of the potential precedent effect of a court finding.”

Many of the cases on the firm’s books happened after 1990, when the Bill of Rights Act was passed, she said.

“It’s possible that a court would order significant damages if a breach of the Bill of Rights was found.”

The court costs associated with the current case could “easily” surpass $1 million, Ms Hill said.

The government set up a Confidential Listening and Assistance Service to hear from abuse victims, which wound up in June 2015.

Its chair, Judge Carolyn Henwood, made seven recommendations, including that an independent inquiry be set up to discover the extent of the abuse.

However, the government has repeatedly resisted opening an inquiry into historic abuse, questioning what it would achieve.

It is likely to achieve more than paying lawyers to fight claims.

There is also growing political pressure..

Last week ACT became the latest political party to support calls for an inquiry, putting National at odds with all three of its government support partners.

ACT leader David Seymour said he initially backed National’s position, but said he had changed his mind.

“Just getting more informed about what happened, the scale of the abuse, the number of people taken into custody… I think this is a question of public policy. It’s a question of justice. It’s a question of the government not being above the law.”

The National Party is alone in resisting.

Now: Claim for child abuse inquiry lodged with Waitangi Tribunal

A claim calling for an independent inquiry into state welfare abuse that disproportionately affected Māori has been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal.

It has been filed on behalf of three claimants by Auckland firm Te Mata Law, assisted by Auckland University law school lecturer Andrew Erueti.

Mr Erueti said the claim asked for an independent inquiry to find out why so many Maori children were put in welfare homes where they suffered abuse.

He wants the claim heard under urgency because the current government response is inadequate, he says, and many victims are now elderly.

The claim is the Crown had failed to provide Māori with an independent means to address abuse of children in state institutions.

It says there is an incomplete understanding of the policies and practices that led to the majority of children in state institutions being Māori, the abuse they suffered, and how it has affected successive generations.

“Looking at the evidence that’s been pulled together by scholars who have looked at this closely over the years, academics in the universities and the historians, it seems quite clear that while there was not [an] express policy that Maori be picked up and taken into state care, they were singled out for special treatment,” Mr Erueti said.

“Greater attention was directed at Māori families and their children.”

The objective of the claim is for the government to hold an independent inquiry that takes into consideration the impact on Māori.

This is escalating because the Government has failed to respond adequately, in fact it has responded poorly.

This is an odd and disappointing situation for National to have got themselves into. Abused children, especially with their issues left not just unaddressed but opposed, are at high risk of becoming a burden to the State – but regardless of that they deserve to be at least partly helped by the State that abused them.

Inquiry on state care abuse?

There has been a lot said recently about Anne Tolley’s refusal to consider an inquiry into state care abuse, despite one being recommended by  Judge Carolyn Henwood  after chairing a Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) panel on the historic abuses.

Like many others I’m puzzled why Tolley won’t address this via an inquiry.

Deborah Hill-Come writes Memo to Anne Tolley – it’s time to stop talking and start listening

Note to Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley: Try stopping being a politician for a minute, and just listen.

. “If you listen to me …” Tolley kept saying to Kim Hill on Morning Report, but actually Minister sometimes it’s not your place to talk, it’s your place to shut up. You attest the victims don’t want an independent inquiry. However Judge Henwood, who chaired the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) panel that heard from more than 1100 people who were abused in state care, came to a different conclusion.

She recommended an independent inquiry. The government ignored this recommendation, seemingly for reasons to do with fiscal and legal risk. “It’s very disappointing for our participants. I feel offended on their behalf,” Judge Henwood said, bravely. Survivors had nowhere to go and no further support.

One of the most pertinent points:

It is insulting for someone who suffered at the hands of the state to be expected to go to the very same agency which allegedly traumatised them to lay a complaint.

Tolley says the historic claims unit is a separate part of MSD, but it is still an agency within ministry. This is hardly independent.

Child victims of abuse and inadequate state care often grow up unwilling to trust state agencies. Understandably.

Kim Hill: “You are not setting up an independent body and I’m interested to know why not?” Anne Tolley: “Because we are three-quarters of the way through settling those claims. Why would we stop that process?” Answer: Because the 1100 victims who spoke to the CLAS said that is what they want.

If the current process is fundamentally flawed due to not being done through an independent agency then rearranging the current process may be essential if it is serious about repairing as much damage as possible.

Tolley said “Some of the claimants have different sorts of care. In some cases they have received very good care.”

Kim Hill: “You mean when they weren’t being raped or abused, Ms Tolley?”

Tolley: “Part of their care was extremely good.”

Kim Hill: “You want them to focus on the good times?”

That exchange is troubling. If Tolley tries to downplay abuse because  some care of some of the victims was ok then I really wonder whether she is the right person to be in charge of this Ministry and this issue.

Tolley on state care abuse claims

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There has been a lot of reaction to an RNZ/Kim Hill  interview this morning of Anne Tolley on the handling of claims of abuse of children while in state care.

I haven’t had a chance to listen to it all. here is the initial interview (links to audio):

The Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley says the system has worked for claimants with most of the recommendations of Judge Henwood being implemented. She says the feedback she has had has been positive and there is no need for an independent inquiry. She says the claimants have suffered enough.

Anne Tolley defends government’s handling of abuse claims

RNZ followed up with details in Tolley rules out apology for child abuse in state care

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley will make no universal apology for the abuse of children in state care saying there is no evidence it was systemic.

There would be no independent inquiry either, she told Morning Report’s Kim Hill, arguing it would only retraumatise victims.

A judge who headed a panel hearing from more than 1000 people abused as children in state care is furious at the government’s response.

Judge Carolyn Henwood was the chair of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) panel that heard from more than 1100 people who were abused in state care between the 1950s and 1980s, predominantly under the Department of Social Welfare.

More than 100,000 children were taken from their families and put into state institutions during that period.

CLAS wound up in June last year. Judge Henwood said survivors had nowhere to go and no further support.

Judge Henwood made seven recommendations, including that an independent inquiry be set up to discover the extent of the abuse, to monitor the Ministry’s care of children and to investigate complaints. She said the government ignored this and other recommendations.

The ministry is handling the complaints, rather than an independent body.

“It’s very disappointing for our participants. I feel offended on their behalf,” Judge Henwood said.

Tolley was questioned about it in Parliament:

Transcript:


Confidential Listening and Assistance Service—Recommendation to Create Independent Body to Resolve Complaints about State Care

12. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Why will she not implement a crucial recommendation of the confidential listening service that an independent body is needed to resolve historic and current complaints of abuse and neglect in State care?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): The Ministry of Social Development’s historic claims resolution team is impartial and operates independently of Child, Youth and Family. It is important to note that the Ministry of Social Development did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s, when most of this abuse occurred. The recommendations from the final report of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service have informed the work on the overhaul of Child, Youth and Family, and this Cabinet has agreed that the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will consider an independent complaints service that will ensure robust monitoring and accountability. But I do note that we have made good progress in resolving these historic claims. Last year I introduced a fast-track process that gives claimants an option to have their claims resolved faster while still receiving an apology and, if they want, a financial settlement. Around 900 payments have been made to date, totalling more than $17 million.

Jan Logie: Will the Minister admit it is possible that some people who were abused in State care may not trust the State to properly investigate their claims of abuse?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That is always possible. However, the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, which was set up under the previous Labour Government and was in place for 7 years, heard from 1,100 people who came forward with their stories and not only had the opportunity to tell their stories and have them taken seriously but received various types of assistance. It is interesting that only half of those went on to make a claim, which indicates that the member is right—some people do not want to go further with the claims process.

Jan Logie: Will the Minister admit it is possible that some people who were told they could have an apology only if they gave up any legal claim against the State might feel that the process did not have their best interests at heart?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That is a hypothetical question. What I do know is that in the claims process, which, as I said, has paid out compensation and given an apology both from the chief executive and, in any case where it is requested, from me as Minister, we do everything we can to ensure that, and the fast-track process means it is only fact-checked. There is no investigation. We only make sure that the person was in the place that they said, at the time that they said—we make that process as simple as possible. I have heard from complainants that what they want is recognition that they were abused—which we all find appalling—and they want the State to take responsibility for that, and they want an apology. In some cases, they want some form of financial compensation. But we all know in this House that no money can ever, ever make up for the abuse and the trauma that those people have suffered.

Jan Logie: Why does she think Judge Henwood said there is not a shred of empathy or remorse in the Minister’s response to this report? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: There is a constitutional process whereby the judiciary respects this Parliament and Parliament respects the judiciary. I am not going to step over that.

Jan Logie: Considering the Minister’s apparent lack of empathy or remorse, how can we trust her to truly keep the best interests of children at the heart of the Child, Youth and Family reforms?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have always been of the opinion that you judge a person by their actions, not their words. I think the legislation that I have brought to this House, and will bring to this House, will show that I am determined that the new system will keep children at the heart of it and that their voices will be heard. It is disappointing that the Green Party and the Labour Party do not support children having the right to have a say about their futures in the legislation that is before the House at the moment.