At the opening of Parliament in November 2017, the new Labour-led Government announced there would be an independent inquiry into abuse of children in state care.
Media has reported that details of the inquiry will be announced on Thursday.
In the lead up, a team of academic and legal experts has released findings from a survey of survivors and a proposed framework for the inquiry. A workshop is also being organised to review the Government’s draft terms of reference once they are released.
Symposium on inquiry into abuse of children in state care
A two-day symposium will be held on 14 - 15 February 2018 in Wellington. It is being hosted by the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Faculty of Law at Auckland University; New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice; and Institute of Criminology School of Social and Cultural Studies. The purpose is to evaluate and make recommendations on the Government’s draft terms of reference for inquiry into the abuse of children in state care. It will focus on the scope of the inquiry, compensation and apology. For more information see the Law Foundation which has provided some funding for the event.
Survey of survivors
The survey aimed to quickly capture survivor's views on an inquiry. More than 300 people completed the survey in November 2017. The brief report, Survivors’ Survey on Inquiry into Abuse in State Care (January 2018, see Annex 2), provides a summary of feedback from survivors on the following topics:
- Who should be heard?
- What should the inquiry focus on?
- Hearing accounts of abuse
- Victim support
- What else should be included?
The authors note that the survey provides only a limited overview and further, more comprehensive engagement with survivors is essential:
"It is vital that those establishing the Inquiry develop more substantive engagement with survivors, particularly those that do not have strong capacity or are disconnected from the above networks, before finalising any Terms of Reference."
"In a bid to make this survey short and time-effective, there are several issues that have not been covered. Again, further exploration of survivors’ views on the scope and practices of any Inquiry is recommended."
Proposed draft framework
Drawing on the survey and consultation with advocates, the authors have prepared a Draft Framework for a NZ Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care (December 2017, see Annex 1). The framework outlines 20 recommendations. In summary they are (paraphrased):
- The process must be at the highest level, a Royal Commission rather than an inquiry
- The Commission must consider different forms of abuse and care including the full range of abuse and neglect; impacts on victims, families, whānau and communities; and children, young people and vulnerable adults with disabilities
- The Commission must investigate and report on a range of issues related to the abuse, including investigating the factors that led to the targeting of Māori families by child welfare agencies and the over-representation of Māori in state care
- The Commission must outline the experiences of specific victim populations including Māori, children and adults with disabilities, and gender-based differences
- The Commission must include historic and current abuse in state care
- The Commission must hear evidence from a wide range of people including victims, their families and whānau, former staff, government and non-government officials, iwi and experts
- The Commission must be survivor-focused
- The Commission must have the power to retrieve all documentation not redacted and compel witnesses to appear
- The Commission must draw on existing research and consider the need for additional research
- The Commission must have the ability to review and revise previous compensation and establish new compensation policy
- The Commission must take action on redress including immediate support for survivors, assisting survivors to pursue further outcomes such as restorative justice or criminal prosecution, and outlining potential law changes
- The Commission must provide recommendations on changes to law, policy and practice to prevent further abuse
- The work of the Commission should support a public apology from the Prime Minister
- The Commission must be independent and receive administrative support
- Terms of Reference should be finalised with input from survivors and stakeholders
- The Commissioners must be independent and have experience with the issues
- The Commission should develop a survivors advisory panel for ongoing feedback
- The Commission should develop and be guided by a set of values
- The Commission should be adequately funded
- The Commission's work and public release of information should be staged over time
The team of authors included Elizabeth Stanley (Associate Professor in Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington), Anaru Erueti (Aotearoa New Zealand Centre for Indigenous Peoples, Senior Lecturer, Law School, University of Auckland), Sonja Cooper (Principal, Cooper Legal) and Rosslyn Noonan (Director, NZ Centre for Human Rights, Law School, University of Auckland). See the press release for more information.
Additional commentary about the pending inquiry
In a 2017 article, Revictimisation is a real risk in a state care abuse inquiry. Here is how to avoid it, academic Elizabeth Stanley argued for the scope of the inquiry not to be too narrow, or too wide. She also calls for the inquiry to consider current as well as historic abuse, calling the 1992 cut-off date for previous work on the issue "arbitrary."
CLAN NZ (Care Leavers Australasian Network NZ) has previously called for many of the same recommendations including establishing a Royal Commission, including all forms of abuse (not only sexual abuse) and including all types of out of home care, including faith-based organisations.
Advocate Paora Crawford Moyle has raised many of the same concerns and recommendations identified in the framework. Ms Moyle has also called for the inquiry to include all types of abuse and all types of care.
In an interview with Radio NZ, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the inquiry would focus only on state care (see video at 4:30), saying:
"This for us is about the role that the state played. We need to hold responsibility, we need to open ourselves up to inquiring into the harm we had direct responsibility for. We haven't even done that yet."
The director of the Catholic Church's National Office for Professional Standards in New Zealand, Bill Kilgallon, has said it is a missed opportunity not to include faith-based organisations.
The Māori Women's Welfare League President Prue Kapua has urged the Government to "ensure victims and bodies and organisations that have had a long involvement in this issue are consulted so that we get it right and we can work towards a State care system that does not provide the opportunity for such abuse in the future.”
Ms Kapua highlighted that "Māori children are still being placed in State care at a higher rate than any other group." Data from the Ministry of Social Development shows that 61% of the children in state care are Māori (as at June 2017). It also shows that the number of Māori children in state care has increased every year for the last five years. (See Kids in care - National and local level data)
A recent report from Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Children found higher rates of harm among children in care than previously estimated.
Stephen Winter, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland, has raised concerns about the current approach to monetary redress for survivors.
The Prime Minister said the Government would put out a starting point, but an independent chair would consult before specific terms of reference were defined (9 minutes into video).
Update: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Internal Affairs Tracey Martin have announced the launch of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in state care. Former Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, will chair the Royal Commission.
Related news: Australia and other international inquiries
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report and recommendations in December 2017.
Families Commissioner Len Cook has published three short articles about what New Zealand could learn from the Australian Royal Commission (also see Part 2 and Part 3).
The Age of Inquiry is a project to map inquiries into abuse of children in institutional care globally. The goal is to develop a comprehensive, publicly available online database of child abuse inquiries. The project is based at La Trobe University in Australia. Learn more on the Find and Connect blog.
For background information, see these previous NZFVC stories:
Submitted on Wed, 2018-01-31 19:54