Terms of reference for inquiry into abuse in care finalised; panelists appointed

Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Government has released the final terms of reference for the Royal Commission into abuse in care. Key changes include expanding the inquiry to include abuse in the care of faith-based institutions, and discretion to hear about abuse outside the time period of 1950-1999.

The inquiry is now called the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions.

In addition, four members have been added to the inquiry panel along with the chair Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand. They are: Ali’imuamua Sandra Alofivae, MNZM; Dr Andrew Erueti; Paul Gibson; and Judge Coral Shaw. The inquiry will also establish an advisory group or groups of survivors of abuse in care.

The changes to the Terms of Reference are in response to more than 400 submissions on the draft terms of reference. The final Terms of Reference set out the purpose and scope, definitions, principles and methods, findings and recommendations, and reporting and conclusion of work.

While the inquiry is focused on abuse that occurred between 1950 and 1999, the commissioners will be able to choose to hear about experiences before or after this time period, including from people currently in care. Clause 10c of the Terms states (page 6):

"for the avoidance of doubt, the discretion in paragraph (b) means the inquiry may hear from people who were in care at any point after 1999 or are currently in care (whether or not they were also in care before 1999). Further guidance on principles and methods of work relating to the inquiry’s engagement with people currently in care is provided in clauses 21 and 22."

The scope of the inquiry has expanded to also include care in faith-based institutions including faith-based schools. Clause 17.4 of the Terms sets out the definition in more detail, stating "In the care of faith-based institutions means where a faith-based institution assumed responsibility for the care of an individual". This includes residential or non-residential care settings, as well institutions that may or may not have been formally incorporated. State care includes social welfare, education, health and disability, and transitional and law enforcement settings. 

The background information in the Terms of References mentions the disproportionate representation of Māori and Pacific people in care. The Terms identify specific principles for the inquiry:

"(a) do no harm:
(b) focus on victims and survivors:
(c) take a whānau-centred view:
(d) work in partnership with iwi and Māori:
(e) work inclusively with Pacific people:
(f) facilitate the meaningful participation of those with disabilities, mental illness, or both:
(g) respond to differential impacts on any particular individuals or groups:
(h) be sensitive to the different types of vulnerability that arise for people in care:
(i) ensure fair and reasonable processes for individuals and organisations associated with providing care:
(j) avoid an overly legalistic approach."

The inquiry will begin hearing evidence in January 2019. It is expected to last four years. Minister for Children Tracey Martin said that the first interim report will be focussed on state care and reported back by the end of 2020. A separate report will be focussed on abuse of children in faith based institutions. This report will be released at the same time as the final report at the end of the inquiry in 2023.

For more information see the inquiry website: www.abuseinstatecare.royalcommission.govt.nz.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has published a press release with information about how the work of the inquiry is related to current MSD Historic Claims work. MSD said the Inquiry will not affect people working with MSD on existing claims. People can continue to file new claims as well. The MSD press release also stated:

"The Social Wellbeing Board of Chief Executives is setting up a Crown response and engagement team to help agencies work together and to collectively support the Inquiry. This team will coordinate and align efforts across and between agencies to support the Inquiry’s work in an integrated, open, constructive and transparent way. The Inquiry will identify, examine and report on existing redress, rehabilitation and compensation processes for resolving claims, making general comments and/or findings. They may also recommend appropriate changes, which may result in further improvements. Once these recommendations are known the Ministry will work with the Minister to action any changes needed to our work."

Responses to the announcements

Media has reported a range of responses to the announcement of the finalised Terms of Reference and panel appointments.

Some survivors and advocates have raised concerns about the impact of widening the inquiry. Listen to an interview with survivor Eugene Ryder and journalist Aaron Smale on Newshub about these concerns.

Survivor and advocate Paora Joass Moyle has criticised the lack of Māori women and survivors on the Royal Comission panel, raising concerns about ongoing institutionalised racism. Listen to an interview with Paora Joass Moyle from Waatea News.

Some have spoken out saying the widening of the inquiry risks minimising the voice of Māori while others believe the wider scope will benefit Māori.

The Māori Council welcomed the appointment of Dr Andrew Erueti to the Royal Commission panel but emphasised the Commission will need to engage with Māori in the community and on the marae.

Academic Elizabeth Stanley discussed the limited time period and historic focus in a NZ Herald opinion article, saying:

"But, a systemic examination of contemporary care practices is out of the question. As the title goes, this is about 'historic abuse'. Implicit in this is the idea that we do things differently now. We will somehow have to ignore how ever-increasing numbers of Māori children are being funnelled into state care. We will have to overlook our need to fully understand why so many youthful care-leavers continue to recount experiences of abuse, neglect or daily feelings of fear, isolation, stigma and disadvantage in care, or how they still quickly rotate into our prisons."

Lawyer and advocate Sonya Cooper said while the Royal Commission can hear from people with experiences after 1999, it is unclear what recommendations the Commission can make about rehabilitation and compensation for these individuals. 

Some churches have welcomed the inclusion of faith-based institutions in the inquiry. However, some survivors of abuse in faith-based institutions are unclear if they will be included in the inquiry based on the definition "in the care of a faith-based institution."

Background information

For background information about the inquiry see our previous stories Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care launched and draft terms of reference released and Public feedback invited on Terms of Reference for Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse.

Prior to the launch of the Royal Commission, a team of academic and legal experts released findings from a survey of survivors and a proposed framework for the inquiry.

Related news

Sport NZ is consulting on sport integrity including harassment and child protection. The deadline to give feedback is 11 December 2018. Feedback is invited from anyone involved in sport. You can give feedback by completing an online survey or emailing a written submission

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report and recommendations in December 2017.

Child migration programmes: Investigation report (2018) was published as part of the UK Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The report examines Child Migration Programmes which removed children from their families and government care and sent them overseas, including New Zealand.

Selected media

Oranga Tamariki doesn't collate mental illness figures, Radio NZ, 10.12.2018

No answer on forced adoption: 'There must be some compassion somewhere', NZ Herald, 05.12.2018

Inquiry’s failings will turn into Royal Omission, Newsroom, 17.11.2018

Expansion ‘a bitter sweet milestone’, Otago Daily Times, 17.11.2018

Editorial: Victims will be heard in major inquiry, NZ Herald, 16.11.2018 

The widening challenge of the state care abuse inquiry, Newsroom, 15.11.2018

Survivor criticises PM on expanded inquiry, Otago Daily Times, 15.11.2018

Royal Commission will 'confront a dark chapter' of our history, Opinion: David Cohen, Radio NZ, 15.11.2018

Church sexual abuse victims fear being re-traumatised, Newstalk ZB, 13.11.2018

Widened inquiry 'may not go far enough', Otago Daily Times, 13.11.2018

Move to expand Government abuse inquiry to include religious institutions welcomed, Stuff, 13.11.2018

'Should have done it sooner': Survivor on abuse inquiry, Otago Daily Times, 12.11.2018

Maori Council welcomes Dr Erueti’s appointment, Press Release: Maori Council, Scoop, 12.11.2018

Anglicans welcome a broader inquiry, Press Release: Anglican Church in Aotearoa, Scoop, 12.11.2018