“Catastrophic failure constituting systemic abuse” ‒ disabled and neurodiverse abuse survivors shed light in new report
Repeated and catastrophic failures by the State to protect disabled and neurodiverse children, young people and adults in care have been highlighted in a new report.
The Tell Me About You report is a collection of 16 stories of abuse survivors’ experiences in State and faith-based institutional care. The report was commissioned by the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry and prepared by the Donald Beasley Institute.
“Every child, young person and adult has the right to thrive and live their best life. Those abused in care were denied that by the very people and systems that were set up to care for them,” said Abuse in Care Commissioner Paul Gibson.
“Tell Me About You includes life stories told by disabled and neurodiverse storytellers who describe abuse and violence that was both blatant and overt as well as subtle and covert. I thank the survivors for their courage in speaking out.”
Tell Me About You highlights the social issues and ableist attitudes that contributed to the abuse and neglect experienced by the storytellers.
Commissioner Paul Gibson, who himself is from the disability community, said “The Tell Me About You report describes the treatment of disabled and neurodiverse people in care as a catastrophic failure constituting systemic abuse.”
Tell Me About You gives valuable insight on the past and offers insight into some of the social issues that still exist today based on current laws, policies, practices and attitudes.
“We’ve heard that State-run systems failed the children and young people who were put into care, instead of protecting and supporting them.
“Tell Me About You provides real life examples of failures from the kōrero of survivors – things we’ve heard already through our public hearings and one-on-one meetings with disabled survivors,” said Commissioner Gibson.
The Donald Beasley Institute’s Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch said, “The abuse and neglect experienced by survivors in institutional care are associated with profound negative physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual outcomes that can impact practically every facet of life.
“We have heard that disabled people were overrepresented among people abused in care, were and are not adequately protected from abuse and neglect, were often taken away from their whānau and community, did not have a say about how they lived or who they lived with and were not listened to when they tried to complain,” said Dr Mirfin-Veitch.
Survivor and Tell Me About You storyteller Lusi Faiva said in the report, “I think that the concept of institutions is not set up to care and look after the disabled people because it is built on a system that dehumanises disabled people. And I think that hasn’t changed much for how the current state care works.
“No one ever talked to me about my Samoan heritage [in care]. I felt like people didn’t know or care about my Samoan culture. Even if they did there was no recognition, interest or inclusion. There was no respect or effort to recognise me for who I am.”
Commissioner Gibson said the Inquiry’s final report to the Governor-General in June 2023 will make clear what needs to change, “so disabled people can have their mana recognised and enhanced, be included in their families, local schools and communities, and to thrive free from abuse and neglect.
“Survivors must know that we as a nation are learning from the lessons of the past and that systemic abuse must never be allowed to happen again,” he said.
About the Inquiry
The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry is investigating the abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults within State and faith-based institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand between 1950-1999. We can also learn from the experiences of survivors who have been in care after 1999. The Royal Commission will deliver its final report in June 2023.
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Donald Beasley Institute
The Donald Beasley Institute (DBI) has nearly four decades of experience in disability research. Over the decades, DBI has seen the closing of institutions as well as the evolution of the community-based disability service system. DBI has maintained a focus on research that emphasises lived experience, inclusivity and transformative research approaches. As part of this, the DBI conducted research documenting the closure of large institutions, referred to as deinstitutionalisation research. This included the processes of moving disabled people out of institutions, and the impacts and conditions of institutions on disabled people (Milner et al, 2008; Mirfin-Vietch, 2005). In 2017, while campaigning for a Royal Commission of Inquiry, the DBI was commissioned to conduct a literature review about “experiences of disabled children and adults in State Care”. The research findings led to the report being titled “Institutions are places of abuse” (Mirfin-Veitch & Conder, 2017), due to the prevalence of abuse in institutions highlighted within the literature.
About the Project
The Tell Me About You project was designed to provide people with learning disabilities and neurodiversity an opportunity to share their experiences from State and faith-based care, and have their voices heard. The RCOI had asked DBI to conduct this work as the variety of official pathways remained inaccessible for many people with learning disabilities and/or neurodiversity. The DBI drew on a long history of inclusive, narrative-based research to craft a research approach that had the potential to engage with people with learning disabilities and neurodiversity to tell their own stories, in their own way.