Survivors’ experiences of legal assistance and advocacy varied. Some had dedicated legal help from lawyers well versed in abuse in care cases. Others struggled to find lawyers with experience, and as a result occasionally ended up accepting unnecessarily small settlements. Some were offered help with the cost of legal advice, others not. Some chose to seek legal aid, while others were deterred by the prospect of the debt they would be left with. Still others relied on family members and counsellors to help them get and interpret records and lodge claims. All of this placed pressure on claimants’ time, energy and resources. Institutions, meanwhile, had plenty of all three. Faith-based institutions were inconsistent about contributing to legal costs.
Some survivors said they were encouraged to get independent legal advice, while others said they were not. Those who did get advice sometimes didn’t fully understand the meaning of agreements they signed. One survivor said she was so angry when she received her settlement offer from the Ministry of Social Development that she did not read the agreement closely and didn’t see a lawyer about what the offer meant. “I don’t remember [the ministry] telling me that I should see a lawyer.”
Mrs N, who was sexually abused at an Anglican school, said she didn’t have a lawyer and wasn’t offered legal advice. She asked to have her counsellor as her support person, but the church would not pay the cost and so she ended up with a church-nominated person – an outcome she found damaging.
Deaf and disabled survivors often rely on advocacy services when navigating redress processes. Some face extra difficulties in finding a lawyer who is familiar with issues facing disabled people. Current processes do not provide the access to advocacy services required to enable disabled survivors to have control and choice as they navigate redress processes, and to ensure equitable outcomes for disabled survivors. James Packer, who is Deaf and has Asperger’s syndrome, said an advocate might have assisted him at the outset of his claim with the Ministry of Education. He said he knew nothing about how to make a claim and could not go to any designated organisation or person for support.
No institution routinely offered survivors financial advice about what to do with their settlement money, something that would have been highly useful for some survivors who had struggled to manage money well for most of their lives. Mark Goold said he was not offered any financial advice, but simply asked for his bank account number. Kathleen O’Connor also said she received no offer of financial advice, but felt strongly that organisations such as ACC and the Ministry of Social Development should offer budgeting advice to people who received payments. The Ministry of Social Development and Oranga Tamariki said they put claimants in touch with financial advisory services on a case-by-case basis. The other agencies and faith-based institutions said they did not offer financial advice with their settlement payments.
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