The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry Contextual hearing is returning at an earlier time on 1 November of 9.30am at the Rydges hotel in Auckland. Commissioners will hear from three witnesses. Witness evidence summaries are outlined below.

After witness speak, their full evidence, along with footage of them speaking, will available for download here.(external link)

The hearing is being live-streamed at: www.abuseincare.org.nz/public-hearings/live-stream/(external link)

Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch

Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch is the Director of the Donald Beasley Institute, an independent charitable trust that conducts research and education in the area of disability with a specific focus on learning (intellectual) disability. Her research has explored deinstitutionalisation from the perspectives of family members of people with a learning (intellectual) disability who were moved from Templeton institution and the Kimberley Centre, the last of New Zealand’s large institutions to close.

Dr Mirfin-Veitch’s wider research projects in the area of parenting, health and wellbeing and the justice system have included many people with learning disabilities who have reported abuse in State care. She was the co-author of ‘“Institutions are places of abuse”: The experiences of disabled children and adults in State Care’, published in 2017.

Dr Mirfin-Veitch will address the nature and extent of abuse and neglect that occurred to people with learning disabilities in State care between the 1950s-1990s, and the impacts on the person abused as well as their family, whānau and community. She will discuss the systemic factors that allowed abuse to occur in institutions and the changes through deinstitutionalisation, and how abuse currently features in the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Dr Hilary Stace

Dr Stace will give a disability perspective on the road to the Royal Commission. A Government inquiry in 1953 recommended that the existing psychopaedic institutions be extended into large ‘mental deficiency colonies’ with parents encouraged to send their disabled children to them by the age of five. In 1964 it was estimated that one in a thousand children had an impairment requiring such incarceration. By the early 1970s, when another Inquiry proposed the closure of such institutions, hundreds of children and adults who had managed to survive lived in such places. Abuse in many forms thrived in such environments. The last institution, Kimberley, finally closed in 2006.

Why were these young people locked away from families and communities for who they were, rather than anything they had done? Why were children taken off mothers who were told to forget about them? Dr Stace will discuss how these policies can be traced back to the Social Darwinism of the previous century and the false science of eugenics which was promoted by influential politicians, public servants, academics and doctors as a way to create an ideal ‘fit’ society. ‘Deviance', ‘defect' and ‘delinquency' threatened this vision and those people assumed to be the cause - including those with certain impairments – were segregated in order to prevent their breeding.

Dr Stace’s evidence will address the intersection of colonisation, racism and eugenics that helped create a toxic mix of surveillance and oppression which led to the institutionalisation of thousands of children, young people and adults in a network of sites across New Zealand. Māori were disproportionately affected. Remnants of eugenic discrimination remain today in ongoing reports of abuse of disabled people.

Mary O’Hagan

Ms O’Hagan will provide historical context of abuse in the psychiatric system, including as it relates to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, key milestones between 1950 and 1999 and the survivor movement. 

She will describe what ‘abuse in State care’ means within a psychiatric system context and the nature of abuses in State care, as well as addressing systems and factors leading well as  to abuse in psychiatric care, and outlining the ways in which the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act plays a role in abuse in care and the consequences for people subjected to the Act.

Ms O’Hagan will demonstrate ways in which the psychiatric system and routine practice constitute abuse, will provide evidence of the experience and impacts of abuses at an individual level, and address the social determinants of distress.

Recommendations will be made for transformation at a social systems level, as well as new ways of conceptualising ‘distress’ and providing a range of supports generated by, or located within, communities (i.e. the Wellbeing Manifesto vision and the Māori Manifesto vision). Ms O’Hagan will also provide some suggestions for redress and rehabilitation.

Media enquiries: Hannah Grant, Hannah.grant@abuseincare.org.nz; 027 298 2094

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