We outline here what we have learned so far based on hundreds of private sessions, two public hearings and investigation and research work. We start by noting the large numbers affected by the care system and how certain marginalised groups came into care institutions. We then consider the nature of abuse, including what happened to survivors and the effect on them and their communities. As stated earlier, the summary below is just the beginning of what we will learn about these topics through our investigations. Later reports will examine these topics in more detail.

The people who have been abused in care come from all backgrounds and situations. But a distinctive feature of our inquiry – as evidenced by the people we see in private sessions and witnesses we interview – is that many survivors come from the most disadvantaged or marginalised segments of the community. They are the children, young people and vulnerable adults of Māori, Pacific and lower socio- economic families, as well as disabled people, women and girls.

About survivors

Abuse has affected a large number of people

To date, more than 1,900 survivors have registered with us, but this is unquestionably only a fraction  of those abused in care. Many will have died or migrated, and many may be unaware of the inquiry or have not yet come forward. Some will be unwilling or unable to talk about their abuse.

A report we have commissioned estimates about 655,000 people have been in certain types of care settings in New Zealand since 1950,74 and that up to 256,000 may have been abused (75). The report reviewed existing data to calculate these estimates. If anything, these numbers are likely to underestimate the true situation, given the gaps in the available data and the breadth of settings and types of abuse within the scope of our work  (76). The abuse has also affected the families and whānau of victims, along with their communities and later generations.

The terms of reference require us to report on the size of the cohorts (groups) of people in State care and care in faith-based institutions, largely to help arrive at estimates of the work ahead for the inquiry. For the reasons just mentioned, it will never be possible to determine the precise number of people abused in the State and faith-based settings within scope – the gaps in, and defects with, the recorded data are too large, and there are inherent difficulties in estimating the number of people abused and neglected in such diverse settings over such a long period of time.

Despite these limitations, the work done to date indicates that more people have passed through the care settings examined than was previously known or, in some cases, estimated. Moreover, even on the most conservative estimates, there has been more abuse in care than previously thought. On any assessment, this is a serious and long-standing social problem that needs to be addressed (77).

Abuse in care has had an impact on people from all parts of New Zealand society. As already noted, many survivors have come from socially and economically marginalised segments of society, in particular Māori, Pacific people and disabled people.

Of the survivors registered with us who provided their ethnicity, about 45 per cent are Māori, and 2.4 per cent are Pacific people. Nearly a third of survivors and witnesses reported some form of disability. Fifty-nine per cent are male, and 41 per cent female (78). Overall, we expect the proportions to change as registration numbers increase.

Māori have been disproportionately affected

The taking of Māori children into care must be viewed in the context of the aftermath of colonisation and large-scale Pākehā settlement. Māori contact with social welfare agencies began in a significant way only after the Second World War as a large number of Māori migrated to the cities and social services expanded into rural areas (79).

The proportion of Māori in urban areas increased from 25 per cent in 1945 to 62 per cent in 1966 and 83 per cent in 1988. Before this time, extended whānau and hapū generally cared for Māori children. A wide disparity gradually emerged between Māori and Pākehā, as measured by a range of housing, education, employment, health and crime statistics (80), resulting in widespread poverty and sometimes serious family dysfunction.

Justice advocate and former public servant Sir Kim Workman told us of the ingrained racism and intolerance of Māori in society at the time, and said that ofte the disparity was attributed not to a failure of government policy, but to shortcomings in Māori: Māori were often perceived to be the problem on the basis of their ethnicity alone (81).

Māori children were brought to the notice of government officials even for their “potential” delinquency, and a predominantly Pākehā police force exercised its powers more readily against Māori children (82). Against this backdrop, an increasing number of Māori children and young people began appearing before the children’s courts.

Since that time, Māori have been persistently overrepresented in the two most common routes into State care – the criminal courts and care and protection system. Between 1940 and 1970, for example, Māori children and young people were found to be three times more likely to appear before the children’s courts than other children and young people.

A study in 1998 found Māori children made up 42 per cent of social welfare care and protection cases, at a time when they made up 24 per cent of the child population. Māori were also more likely than others to be removed from the home as a result of these processes. A report, for example, by the Chief Ombudsman found 42 per cent of cases brought before the children’s courts in 1973 involved Māori, but of cases where children were removed from the home, 51 per cent involved Māori.

The proportion of Māori in State care has been correspondingly high. In some institutions, such as the Ōwairaka Boys’ Home in Auckland in the 1970s, up to 80 per cent of residents were described as “Polynesian, mainly Māori” (83). This had a stark effect on a generation of Māori. Statistician Len Cook estimates that by the late 1970s, about one in every 14 Māori boys and one in every 50 Māori girls were living in State institutions.

Available data suggest that a disproportionate number of Māori have also been in both disability and mental health facilities – illustrating the point made earlier about the overlap between groups and settings. Māori have higher proportions of disability compared with others in all age groups.

Māori have also been consistently overrepresented in admissions to psychiatric institutions since the 1970s (84). Reports in the 1990s show Māori were not only more likely to be receiving mental health care, but also more likely to be in secure care and subject to compulsory treatment orders.

The disproportionate representation of Māori children in care continues to this day. As at 30 June 2020, Māori made up 68 per cent of children and young people in care and protection custody and 74 per cent of those in youth justice custody (85). The Office of the Children’s Commissioner found that, in 2019, Māori babies up to the age of three months were five times more likely than non-Māori babies to be taken into State care (86). A 2019 Oranga Tamariki report also suggests Māori have been abused at higher rates while in care. The report showed Māori make up 81 per cent of children abused in care, compared with 69 per cent of those in care (87).

Many Māori in care today are the children of those previously taken into care. Māori have also been alienated in large numbers from their history, values, whenua, tikanga and cultural connections.

Our investigation into Māori experiences of abuse in care will look more closely at the broader context of the high number of Māori who have ended up in care.

Pacific people have also been affected

Young Pacific people have been placed in care since at least the 1970s. At this time New Zealand had entered an economic downturn and resentment towards migrants was on the rise (88). Today, Pacific youth are overrepresented in youth justice residences and out-of-home care placements (though not to the same extent as Māori): Pacific youth make up 23 per cent of the former and 16 per cent of the latter despite accounting for just 13 per cent of the youth population.

However, we have found it difficult so far to establish a firm picture of how many Pacific people were in care or were abused in care during the full period covered by the terms of reference, largely because of unclear, inconsistent or insufficiently detailed record- keeping. Some reports on residences, for example, counted Pacific people and Māori together, while many official records – including the census until 1986 – did not allow individuals to identify themselves as having more than one ethnicity, such as both Māori and Pacific.

At a national level, statistics do not adequately show the impact on young Pacific people in urban areas where Pacific populations have been concentrated, and beyond more recent census data there are very few, if any, records that record distinct Pacific ethnicities. We also heard from survivors who said staff at residences discouraged them from acknowledging their Pacific heritage, which may have led to underreporting of these ethnic groups in care settings (89).

In addition, many in Pacific communities are reluctant to speak about being in care or being abused in care. Both of these are a source of shame for some in the community and their families, and for this reason many are reluctant to divulge their experiences to their own families or community, let alone to officials (90).

Despite these limitations, it is clear abuse in care is an important issue for Pacific communities.

There are some reports that suggest some care residences had disproportionately high numbers of Pacific residents during the 1970s and 1980s. A report on six Auckland social welfare residences in 1983 found 16 per cent of residents were of Pacific ethnicity, compared with 6 per cent of the youth population (91), and other residences and residential schools had between 50 per cent and 80 per cent Māori and Pacific residents (although no breakdown is provided specifically for Pacific children) (92). Pacific (and Māori) children were also reportedly overrepresented at health camps in the 1980s.

Pacific adults were admitted to psychiatric care at rates proportionate to the population, but were more likely to be committed to such care, and subsequently readmitted. Churches played, and continue to play, a central role in the lives of the Pacific migrant population, and as a result many Pacific children spent time in church camps and schools where they may have been exposed to abuse. The likelihood of Pacific people being in the care of both the State and faith-based institutions during their lifetimes is an example of  the interconnected nature of the settings in the terms of reference.

In our view, the failure of official sources to systematically or appropriately collect ethnicity data has contributed to an underreporting of the experiences of this part of our population. Our Pacific investigation will be looking to build a more coherent picture of Pacific experiences in care.

Many people with disabilities have been abused

A large proportion of disabled people have some experience of care at some time in their lives (93). However, there is little data on how many disabled people have been placed in care or how many disabled people were in particular types of care. Before 1996, in fact, governments did not collect official data on the number of disabled people in New Zealand at all.

Despite this, studies and government records show that disabled people, particularly those with learning disabilities, spent time in a range of institutional care settings, including psychiatric and so-called psychopaedic hospitals, children’s homes and youth justice settings, and that they were often moved between these places. Disabled children were also likely to go to special schools, some run by faith-based institutions. For example, Marylands School – the subject of one of our current case studies in the Catholic investigation – was a residential school for boys including those with learning disabilities.

For much of the 20th century, parents of disabled children often faced considerable pressure from governments to place their children in State institutions by the age of five, on the grounds it was better for them and their family. Those who entered institutions were likely to stay in care for much or all of their lives.

Disability researcher and activist Dr Hilary Stace told the inquiry this happened against a backdrop of attitudes and policies that discriminated in favour of non- disabled people, sometimes influenced by eugenics (94), and how this led to the development of separate residential institutions for children with a learning disability and legislation permitting children with learning disabilities to be removed from their families and placed in care (95).

Between the 1950s and 1970s, residential institutions remained the State’s preferred option for housing disabled people, particularly those with a learning disability. These numbers fell after that time, but psychopaedic institutions continued to operate until the 1990s and in some cases until the mid-2000s.

Survivor Sir Robert Martin was a resident in one such institution. He said a doctor told his mother he was “mentally retarded” and to send him away and forget about him (96). He said that, at 18 months, he “lost his family” when he was sent to the Kimberley Centre in Levin, a place for children with intellectual disabilities: “I  cried for them. I wanted them to come and take me home, but they did not come so in the end, I gave up crying for them” (97). Later, the State’s focus shifted to providing disabled people with supported care so they could live in their own homes. Current residential care services are typically much smaller, frequently housing four to six people.

There is little data on abuse of disabled people in care, in large measure because they often faced extra hurdles to recognising and disclosing abuse, such as communication difficulties, fear of withdrawal of support from the carers on whom they depended, or an inclination by those in positions of authority to consider disabled people to be unreliable witnesses of abuse.

International studies show that as a population disabled children and adults experienced abuse at far higher rates and for more prolonged periods than non- disabled people, and that disabled children living in care may be more vulnerable to abuse. The fact disabled people are more likely to spend time in institutions and for longer periods than non- disabled people partly explains this difference. We will be looking to establish whether the higher rates of abuse found overseas are replicated in New Zealand. For now, we see no reason to believe New Zealand is any different.

As with the Pacific population, we see the lack of data on disabled people in care as impeding our understanding of the experiences of this group. As IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant aptly put it when discussing the monitoring of disabled people in education: “What you count you value, and what you don’t count you don’t value” (98).

Women and girls have also been abused

The majority of survivors registered with us are male (99). But women and girls have suffered distinct types of harm in care.

More research is needed into what led to the placement of girls in care or what their experience was like while in care. We know, however, that in the 1950s and 1960s there was a general fear of “moral delinquency”, particularly as it related to girls.

Several witnesses described how girls – even as young as eight or nine – endured forced examinations in stirrups for venereal diseases, on admission into care or after being out of an institution for a day  (100) Although information is limited, we are also aware of reports of women and girls in institutions, particularly disabled women and girls, being sterilised without consent (101). Previously institutionalised girls were more likely to remain in, or return to, institutions because they were viewed as “risky” or in need of further containment (102).

Advocate Dr Oliver Sutherland, told us Māori girls were at particularly high risk of being taken from their families into care. He found that Māori girls brought before the courts between 1967 and 1976 were more likely than both non- Māori girls and Māori boys to be placed into State care as a result of that process. In one three-year period, between 1974 and 1976, every one of the twenty 15-year- old girls sentenced to borstal was Māori (103).

Girls seen as difficult to control could also be labelled mentally unwell and sent to psychiatric institutions. For instance, at Fareham House in the late 1960s, a school initially established for Māori girls, between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of girls were transferred to psychiatric hospitals (104).

One girl, Beverly Wardle-Jackson, said that even at her young age she “could see the injustice of dumping us girls into mental institutions simply because there was nowhere else for us to go.

It seemed as though we were some kind of social experiment” (105). She said she was sent back to Porirua Hospital whenever she was regarded as being “difficult”, but in truth she was “just a lonely, isolated teenage girl” (106).

Women and girls also suffered from lack of support when they became pregnant, including coming under pressure to adopt out their babies  (107). Many young unmarried mothers were forced to give up their babies at birth. The lack of easily available contraceptives for single women before the 1970s – and very restricted access to abortion – limited young women’s choices. It was not until 1973 that single mothers could receive the domestic purposes benefit to help raise their children, enabling some to escape from abusive and violent partners.

In the 1950s, women who became pregnant outside marriage faced extreme pressure from their families and social welfare agencies to adopt out their babies. The Adoption Act 1955 made such adoptions “closed”, meaning mothers lost all connection with their babies. There were almost 45,000 adoptions between 1955 and 1985 (108).

Many women have told us in private sessions of their grief and regret at not being able to keep their children. They described being taken to mothers’ homes, often run by faith-based institutions, and being treated with contempt by staff while they waited to give birth. They were subject to various forms of abuse and trauma, the effects of which were often lifelong. We also heard from children who spoke of a sense of injustice at being separated from their mothers at birth.

Many closed adoptions involved Māori children adopted into Pākehā families (109). One such person, Dr Alison Green, told us she did not learn of her Māori heritage until later in life. Her adoptive parents were told she had “a touch of Spanish blood” when they adopted her in 1958.

She described growing up without whakapapa, whenua and whānau as “traumatic, painful and at times accompanied by feelings of low self-worth” (110).

We were told Māori children who looked “too Māori” were often sent to unsafe homes because many adopting parents did not want “darker-skinned” children. The “best” applicants were offered the “best” children, and those applicants perceived as marginal were offered “less desirable” children (111). Whānau, hapū and iwi also experience a sense of loss when a child is adopted into a Pākehā family. Such placements can affect the wider family’s right to claim their whakapapa.

Reasons for placements have been varied and in many cases arbitrary

Individuals have been placed in care for a variety of reasons, including poverty, being born to an unmarried mother, a parent’s substance abuse, the death of a parent, abuse in the home, a child’s perceived delinquency, a perception that children were not “under proper control”, truancy, and a child’s disability or mental illness. Children were often placed in care because of reasons other than bad behaviour (112). Even those placed in care for that reason were often living in volatile family environments.

Many survivors had little or no understanding of why they had been removed from their families or felt the reasons were arbitrary or unwarranted. Some said their removal from their family was handled with little consideration and left them feeling distressed, fearful and uncertain about the future. We heard from survivors who told us family members had volunteered to take care of them so they did not have to enter the care system, but the State declined such offers for no good reason.

Said one survivor: “They should have put me with my nana ’cos she was fighting tooth and nail to have me living with them ... Why would they want to put me in a foster care so bad? They just refused. It doesn’t make sense” (113).

Some also said they felt tricked or pressured into agreeing to voluntary psychiatric care. Others described entering psychiatric care with a misdiagnosis or without a diagnosis of mental illness at all. For example, deaf survivor James Packer was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital where he was medicated accordingly (114). Two years later, his mother was able to have him correctly diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome by an external clinician, but this was not recognised by the institution where he remained, still on medication for schizophrenia, for about another nine years (115).

Similarly, Leoni McInroe was admitted to Lake Alice hospital as a result of a misdiagnosis of borderline schizophrenia. While at Lake Alice, she was given drug therapy and electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT, as forms of punishment (116). Another survivor, Joan Bellingham, described how she was perceived as non- conforming because she was openly gay in her late teens. She and her parents were told she was unwell and needed treatment, which led to her being in and out of psychiatric care, receiving medication and ECT, for the next 12 years (117).

Whatever the reason young people or vulnerable adults went into care, we have heard that far from being cared for, many left in worse shape than when they arrived, often with devastating and long-lasting consequences.

Nature of abuse in care

Abuse has taken many forms

Abuse, as defined by the terms of reference, includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse.

It also includes neglect and any inadequate or improper treatment or care that results in serious harm, whether mental or physical (118). Of course, standards and understandings of care changed over the period we are examining. The standards of the time may be relevant to our consideration of whether particular conduct was abusive, but we will look at conduct that caused serious harm regardless of whether it was accepted conduct at the time. To be clear, the abuse we have heard about to date includes conduct that was clearly abusive even when judged against the standards of the day.

We were told that whatever unhappiness, neglect or abuse survivors experienced at home often paled in comparison to what they later endured in care. Survivors across many different settings described violent, volatile environments in which various forms of abuse were rife. It was rare to be subjected to just one form of abuse. Many survivors were maltreated in a variety of ways. A large majority also witnessed the abuse of others.

We heard from survivors who endured serious physical and sexual assaults, humiliation, degradation and other dehumanising behaviour. These included unreasonable physical restraint, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the use of medication and medical procedures as punishment, unjustified solitary confinement and isolation, improper strip searches and vaginal examinations, verbal abuse and racial slurs.

We also heard how abuse was inflicted on individuals to punish, control or instil fear in them. Some cases of abuse were so serious the United Nations accepted, without dispute by the New Zealand government, that they amounted to acts of torture (119).

Emotional, psychological or mental abuse can result from improper removal from home or placement in a care setting, frequent changes in placements, undue length of time in care, lack of access to health or education services, loss of contact with family of origin and loss of contact with one’s culture or language of origin.

Neglect can include physical, emotional and psychological, medical, educational, spiritual or cultural deprivation. Survivors described all of these and told us their basic human needs for affection, warmth and love were not met while in care. Cultural deprivation is a particular issue for many Māori survivors, who struggled to find and reconnect with whānau, hapū and iwi, and build a sense of Māori identity after being placed in non-Māori care.

Abuse has happened in many care settings

The types of care within the terms of reference include  residential and non-residential settings, such as care and protection residences, youth justice residences, foster care and adoption placements, children’s homes and borstals, psychiatric hospitals or facilities, disability facilities, non-residential psychiatric or disability care, health camps, programmes provided by third parties contracted to the State (120), schools and education facilities (including boarding schools and residential special schools) as well as transitional settings, including police cells, police custody and transport between State care facilities (121).

The definition of care in the terms of reference focuses on whether the State “assumed responsibility” for looking after that person, whether directly or indirectly (122). This means individuals may be “in care” regardless of whether they are physically within one of the institutions or settings listed above.

As for faith-based institutions, care settings can include residential and non-residential settings such as faith-based children’s homes and orphanages, homes for unmarried mothers, religious schools, youth groups and camps operated through a faith-based organisation, and churches. We can investigate abuse regardless of whether it took place on or off, say, church grounds or premises.

The crucial factor is whether the faith-based institution had a care relationship with the person abused. This means, for example, that we can investigate the abuse of an individual while away on a day trip or overnight stay. We have heard from survivors who have been abused by a person in this care relationship in a wide range of settings, including in their own homes, in a presbytery, in a seminary, in a car, in a cathedral and in the confessional.

We can also look at abuse such as bullying that causes serious harm and physical or sexual violence by other residents in a care setting. We have heard from many survivors and advocates that violence from other residents was common.

We know that more than 1,000 State and faith-based care institutions, homes and service providers were in operation between 1950 and 1999, and we may well learn of more as the inquiry continues. Settings have changed in type and in number according to prevailing attitudes about such things as delinquency, mental illness, disabled people, ethnicity and best practice for social work.

Physical abuse has been common

Physical abuse and the witnessing of physical abuse has been very common, particularly in residential care, foster care homes and education, health and disability settings. Survivors told us they were slapped, punched, kicked and hit. They were also strapped, whipped, caned, belted, burned with objects, hosed down and made to eat inedible items such as soap. They could also be given demeaning tasks, such as cleaning a floor with a toothbrush. Others were forced to do excessive physical training, sometimes on blistered feet and to the point of exhaustion (123). Other abuse included being compelled to stand outside in one place or position for many hours or being paraded nude before others (124).

Witnesses said physical violence was often administered as a form of punishment. Beverly Wardle- Jackson, for example, described how the principal of the State-run girls’ home Fareham House tied her up “like an animal” after she ran away (125). In another case, we were told of a boy who absconded from the Wesleydale Boys’ Home in Auckland and was hit 12 times on the buttocks with a cricket bat, and another boy who was administered the same punishment with such force that his buttocks bled (126).

We also heard examples of individuals who were physically punished for minor or non-existent reasons, such as waving, spilling a drink, crying, bed-wetting, biting nails or losing a handkerchief (127). Professor Elizabeth Stanley’s book, Road to Hell: State Violence against Children in Postwar New Zealand, notes that boys who absconded were made to fight one another as punishment (128).

In some psychiatric hospitals, patients were given forms of punishment such as the administration of ECT without any anaesthetic, or the use of apparatus conventionally used to administer ECT to instead administer shocks to the genitals and legs (129). We also heard of instances where hospital staff supervised children administering ECT on others in care. Patients at psychiatric institutions were also given experimental behaviour modification therapies, such as deep sleep therapy, aversion therapy and abreaction therapy, and drug treatments.

Anne Helm, who was subjected to six weeks of deep sleep therapy at Cherry Farm Hospital in Dunedin in the 1970s, said the experience left her physically shattered. Staff were constantly taking her blood pressure, she said, “because the huge amounts of medication coursing through my body could potentially paralyse and stop fundamental functioning. At the end of this ‘treatment’, my legs atrophied from complete bed rest, I could not support my bloated weight… I was barely able to lift my head from a pillow” (130). Medications were sometimes given to sedate and control, rather than to produce therapeutic benefit, and they were often given without patient consent (131).

ECT, administered in accordance with strict criteria, continues to be a recognised and often successful treatment for psychiatric conditions. However we heard many people speak of its devastating impact on them when administered improperly. These accounts of abuse in psychiatric institutions reinforce well- documented material compiled by the Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals. One survivor, Egan Bidois, described it as torture (132). Another, Joan Bellingham estimates that she received ECT more than 200 times. She described the process (133):

“There were no regular patterns to the ECTs. Sometimes it would happen twice a day, maybe once a day, or once every few days. You would be told the night before that you would have shock treatment the next day and not to have anything to eat. They would give me a muscle relaxant to paralyse me. It felt like razor blades going through my body.

You were fully awake during this time. You could see the silver machine and the assistants holding the electrodes… Every time after shock therapy I felt faint, dizzy and vomited. I felt terrible. I would vomit and cry and often beg them not to do it again. They would not listen or respond. Sometimes it caused me to become completely blind for a period of time.”

The United Nations Committee Against Torture recently considered a complaint about the use of “unmodified ECT” and medication as punishment at the child and adolescent unit of Lake Alice Hospital. The committee indicated that these actions might amount to torture and/or ill-treatment, and that New Zealand had breached its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by failing to ensure the competent authorities undertook a prompt and impartial investigation (134).

Seclusion has been used as a form of punishment

Children and young people in residential care were sometimes locked in isolated cells or rooms as a form of punishment or control, which could occasionally stretch into weeks or months (135). Witnesses said secure rooms were small, sometimes windowless, cold, dirty, smelly and largely unfurnished. In some cases, bedding and mattresses were removed during the day, forcing children to sit on the floor or bedframe. Buckets or potties were provided for a toilet. There was nothing to do. Often meals had to be eaten in the room.

We also heard that holding children in such a way for a period of time on arrival was routine practice at some residential institutions. For example, long- time advocate Dr Oliver Sutherland said boys admitted to Ōwairaka Boys’ Home in the 1970s would have to strip in front of staff for delousing. Boys would then be sent straight to isolation cells for days, permitted out only for an hour of physical training each day. Boys would not be permitted to speak to each other or to staff, who communicated with children only through nods of the head (136).

We have also heard about the use of seclusion (a form of solitary confinement) in disability and psychiatric care facilities, and recent independent reviews have found high rates of restraint and seclusion practices in health and disability settings in New Zealand (137). Our investigations will further examine the improper use of seclusion for children and vulnerable adults in residential children’s care settings and in disability care settings including psychiatric care.

Sexual abuse has been inescapable for many

We have heard that it has been common for those of all ages to experience sexual abuse. Some were repeatedly abused in a variety of State and faith- based settings. Staff, carers, priests, ministers, nuns, the children of carers, other children in care – all could be perpetrators. Some children were also sexually abused by their family members while in the care of the State. In one study, 57 of the 105 participants were sexually violated by the adults who were meant to be caring for them, and 48 were sexually assaulted by another child (138).

We heard how many girls in care found sexual abuse “became the norm” (139). One such person, Dallas Pickering, said she was sexually abused while in adoptive care, foster care and a family group home. Another, Annasophia Calman, said she was sexually abused in many placements. In one, she was raped by her foster  father: “After the first time I was raped, I went down to the cowshed and had a shaking fit, and that night I scrubbed myself in the bath until I started bleeding” (140).

Girls, some as young as eight or nine, were also subjected to routine venereal disease testing at some residences, including compulsory tests on arrival, and further testing if they absconded or had been on day leave (141). Girls who resisted the testing could be strapped down or denied privileges until they agreed to the test.

Boys were also sexually abused. One witness, Mike Ledingham, told us he was sexually abused by the priest of his parish convent school at the age of eight (142). He later learned the priest had also abused his two younger brothers. Others spoke of being sexually abused by staff in residential boys’ homes and schools (143).

Survivors in psychiatric institutions reported frequent sexual abuse by psychiatrists and nurses. Some described being forcibly given medication and waking up to find they were being sexually abused. Survivors also described witnessing older boys forcing younger patients to perform sexual acts on them at psychiatric hospitals (144).

We also heard that sexual abuse was inescapable and unchallenged for a significant number of those with disabilities, no matter what the age, and that sexual abuse was part of a larger all-pervading culture of violence in institutions.

Sir Robert Martin said he was sexually abused by staff and other residents at the Kimberley Centre and Campbell Park School in North Otago. He remarked that he “couldn’t understand how people could be so cruel” (145). Gay Rowe described learning that her disabled brother had been sexually abused by two staff members at her brother’s residential care facility. She said: “I was angry, I was hurt that somebody felt they had a right to do with my brother what they wanted to when they were supposed to actually be caring for him… it just made me feel sick”(146).

Bullying and humiliation have been rampant

Survivors have made repeated references in their accounts to emotional and psychological abuse. They described the constant fear and psychological toll of repeated maltreatment, including witnessing abuse of others.

Survivors were bullied, belittled, humiliated, insulted, intimidated, put down, ostracised from communal activities, discriminated against, and felt they were unloved and unwanted.

Again, this abuse was perpetrated by staff, carers and other children. Regardless of setting or age, they were subjected to strong verbal abuse. They were told they were lazy, useless and stupid, that they would not get out of hospital, would be medicated for life, would not be able to study, work or live independently, and should not have children. This resulted in hopelessness and feelings of low or no self-worth. Keith Wiffin said the abuse by staff at Epuni Boys’ Home in Lower Hutt had a powerful effect on him (147):

Another survivor, Ann-Marie Shelley, spoke about the psychological abuse she received at a Salvation Army Bethany home for unmarried mothers: “[The Major] who oversaw Bethany made sure we never forgot that we were delinquents, deviants and sinners who had nowhere else to go” (148).

Lack of communication or consultation about placements has caused distress

A great source of distress was that people did not know why they were in care, how long they would be there, when they would get to see their family, and what they should do to stay out of trouble. Arthur Taylor said one of the hardest things about being in care was never knowing how long he would be there, and this constant uncertainty caused him great anxiety and stress: “To a child, even a week is a long time. I asked all the time, but no one would tell me” (149).

Another survivor described in a private session that she was never told why she was in a Catholic orphanage and not with her parents and siblings: “It wasn’t until discovery documents came for my court case did I find out that it was my mother who put me there.”

Frequent moves between placements also caused emotional distress. Dallas Pickering, for example, was moved 12 times by the time she was 15. In that time, she was placed in an adoptive family, three foster families and two group homes. She described the trauma she experienced after being removed from a foster placement where she had built positive connections and a “normal family life” (150). Chassy Duncan was moved between foster, “family home” (151) and residential special school placements 17 times in less than two years. He said he “felt like livestock, just getting moved from paddock to paddock” (152).

Basic needs have been ignored

Many survivors said they were deprived of such essentials as food, water, shelter, warmth, personal hygiene, medical care, a safe living environment and education while in care. Dallas Pickering said her adoptive family “insidiously neglected” her. She described being locked outside by herself for hours and learning to survive by drinking water from a hose and eating fruit from the garden. A neighbour sometimes passed food under the hedge (153). At five, she weighed the same as a 12-month-old. Nonetheless, she was later placed back with the same adoptive family.

Some children did not receive even the most basic education, perhaps because of a lack of teachers, or because staff and carers had such low opinions about their intelligence or abilities (154). When Annasophia Calman left Nazareth House in Christchurch at age 14, she could barely read or write (155).

Some survivors were not given affection or the opportunity to form connections with others. Sir Robert Martin said residents of the Kimberley Centre were locked away from the community. “It was lonely. There were hundreds of people around me but as a little boy I didn’t know another human being – not properly anyway”(156).

Children were given no opportunities to have what would be regarded as typical childhood experiences, such as going to birthday parties, visiting the zoo or going to playgrounds. Beverly Wardle-Jackson described her excitement at receiving her first Christmas presents from visitors to Florence Booth Salvation Army Home in Wellington, only for staff to confiscate them at the end of the day (157).

Violence and intimidation have been used to control residents

Severe physical violence, intimidation, coercion and psychological and sexual abuse have been employed to control people, particularly those in residences. In one study, survivors reported that physical abuse was used to isolate children, “break their spirit” and create divisions among them, including by making children active members in the punishment of others, or by imposing collective punishments (158). Staff and carers created an environment of constant fear in order to control those in their care. Arthur Taylor said Epuni Boys’ Home reminded him of a   slaughterhouse because “everyone was terrified all the time” (159).

In some places, the culture of violence was reinforced through initiation ceremonies and the enforced prohibition of “narking” or “snitching” about abuse. Physical violence was meted out, encouraged and condoned through the so-called “kingpin” system, in which some children or young people were designated as dominant and others as subordinate. Fights between residents to determine which child would be the kingpin were condoned or encouraged by staff. Some survivors considered it was a form of entertainment for staff, who used the system to their own advantage to control those in their care. Professor Elizabeth Stanley said that, left unprotected, “children had no choice but to harden up and use violence themselves, so victims became bullies and on it progressed” (160).

We also heard of a practice at Wesleydale Boys’ Home called the “golden fist”. If a boy absconded, all the other boys were denied privileges, such as morning and afternoon tea, supper and rest periods, until the boy was found. When the boy was located, staff would arrange a boxing match between him and the boy considered to be the best boxer. Staff and other residents would gather to watch the fight, which ended only when the boy who had absconded was knocked to the ground and would not get up. The use of such collective punishments meant the group would discipline itself (161).

We heard that as part of admission procedures at some residential facilities, personal clothing and belongings were confiscated in an apparent attempt to erase any trace of individual identity (162). Daily life often resembled a prison or the military. Individuals were under constant surveillance and had no say over any aspect of their lives, including when they got up, what they ate, what they wore, and what they did during the day. They were made to adhere to strictly regimented routines, such as being made to eat, shower and shave at particular times, or not being allowed to interact with friends (163). There was no privacy.

We heard of a practice in some girls’ homes of requiring girls to change into their pyjamas mid- afternoon, after which their clothes were locked away to deter runaways. Professor Stanley said such practices were the daily denigrations, or mundane harms, suffered by children: “These abuses often occurred as part of the everyday administration of the state care system” (164).

Survivors commonly described a feeling of being trapped in State care, of being confined and restricted on a daily basis in a manner they considered hurtful, excessive and humiliating. Beverly Wardle-Jackson said every aspect of her daily life – right down to the prohibition on wearing her own clothes, even her own underwear – reinforced the sense of being trapped and powerless (165).

Māori have been subjected to racial abuse and cultural disconnection

The State has been more likely to remove Māori from their homes or put them in foster care than to place them with whānau (166). Racist attitudes and a disregard of Māori identity compounded the harm experienced by Māori placed in care. Māori survivors described experiencing discrimination that included ridicule and racial insults from foster parents and staff at residences. They also said they were ignored and disbelieved when trying to report abuse.

They were forced to work long hours before and after school and were treated like second-class citizens. Māori girls were also taken into residential care, and some were housed in Fareham House, a State-run home initially established specifically for Māori girls near Featherston (167).

Professor Stanley’s book, Road to Hell: State Violence against Children in Postwar New Zealand, is littered with examples of such racially infused abuse. She told us survivors described to her how staff “verbally abused them, calling them thick, stupid, useless, lazy, whinging, filthy, dirty, low lives, scumbags, poofters, critters, shitheads, pricks, no hopers, white maggots, niggers and monkeys” (168). She said a 1978 report into Ōwairaka Boys’ Home found “Māori were put down and treated with contempt. There was no effort made to treat those children as human beings” (169).

It was also difficult for Māori children to be placed in stable, long-term care in foster families or with adopting parents (170). We heard about the difficulty of adopting out babies who were darker skinned or of mixed race. They usually went to less suitable families or ended up in State or faith-based care.

Those adopted out could not find their whānau, hapū and iwi or learn te reo Māori. They also felt disconnected from their culture and struggled to build a sense of identity and belonging. Some voiced deep regret to us about not being able to speak te reo Māori, and others expressed anger at their hapū and iwi “for not being there” when they needed them.

Māori communities had little influence over the way Māori children were cared for and little opportunity to provide their own forms of care, whether in child welfare, mental health or disability settings (171). It is clear, for example, that the non-recognition of Māori customary law on adoptions under the Adoption Act 1955 has inhibited the ability of extended whānau to keep Māori children (172)

Pacific people have also suffered disconnection from their families and culture

Many Pacific people who ended up in care were children of recent migrants. For some, English was a second language and they described being teased for their poor English and treated as stupid. Some, as noted, said officials encouraged them to abandon their Pacific identity once in care. Others spoke of not knowing their Pacific identity until adulthood.

Pacific survivors spoke of feeling stripped of their cultural identity, and of trying to fill the gap left by its removal. Fa’afete Taito described how he went into care considering himself Samoan and Christian and came out “being   tough and being violent – that was my new identity” (173). Others talked about feeling powerless, confused, betrayed and struggling to cope with life in New Zealand. Many felt overwhelming shame for their family, leaving them emotionally crippled for years afterwards.

Disabled people have been ostracised from society and their needs have not been met

Survivors with a disability often felt ostracised from the rest of society when they were placed in care. Many reported feeling abandoned, invisible and excluded from their family and wider community.

Survivors in this group said they endured abuse in a variety of forms. In addition to the types of abuse described previously, these included receiving identical haircuts and birthday events; being forced to share underwear; being subjected to painful medical interventions with little or no therapeutic benefit, including psychotropic medication and sterilisation; having their hands tied to prevent them from using sign language; being subjected to experimental and punitive “treatments”; and being subjected to extensive use of restraints and isolation.

Some survivors told us the abuse made them feel less than human. Disabled children and adults who needed support with personal care (such as with eating, dressing, bathing and going to the toilet) were particularly vulnerable.

James Packer described, among other things, being hit and watching others being assaulted as punishment for using New Zealand Sign Language at Kelston School for the Deaf (174) Sir Robert Martin witnessed Kimberley Centre staff use a fire hose on a naked disabled boy who had soiled himself. He said this memory had never left him: “He would try to stand up and be knocked over again. I have seen many terrible things, but what I saw that day has stayed with me and still frightens me. It was a warning – if you misbehave, this will happen to you” (175).

More broadly, these survivors reported neglect of their social, cultural, educational and health needs. We heard they were often exposed to an “extremely impoverished [relationship] environment” and felt as though no one cared about them (176). 

Many disabled survivors reported being deprived of the opportunity to learn to read and write or reach their full learning potential, being denied any recognition of their learning needs, and, if they went to school, being segregated from other students.

Some were denied stimulation of any sort. Sir Robert said Kimberley Centre residents had nothing to do and “some people stayed on the floor all day rocking back and forth, especially people with the highest needs. There were so many of them, they were just left on the ground. If someone had an accident and soiled themselves, they were just left in their dirty clothes” (177)

Leaving care could also be a considerable shock. Sir Robert said he “had to learn to live and to survive all over again” after his release at 15 (178) He felt as though he had been “brought up on a different planet with different rules” because he had no knowledge of world events or well- known aspects of kiwi culture, such as the All Blacks (179).

Some individuals have suffered abuse in many settings

Children in the State care system were commonly moved from institution to institution, especially if they were in care for a long time. Some were abused in more than one setting, and this could go on for periods of five to 10 years or more. In some cases, individuals went directly from the cradle into care that lasted for decades. Some survivors considered the frequency with which they were uprooted to be abuse in itself.

Entering care in one type of institution, for example a residential home or youth justice facility, did not necessarily mean an individual remained in that setting. The individual might find him or herself next in a psychiatric hospital, or moved into foster care. Survivors described the trauma of being removed against their will from positive, supportive placements, as well as the difficulty of forming meaningful relationships when they were shifted so frequently.

Decisions about when and where to move children appear to have often been in response to overcrowding and budgetary and administrative considerations, and not the child’s preferences or care needs (180). Sometimes, children were moved from residential homes to psychiatric hospitals for treatment without understanding why and, in many cases, in the absence of any diagnosed condition that required treatment.

Such transfers were apparently sometimes an outcome for children at residences who displayed “behavioural problems” or were regarded as “uncontrollable”. We have heard that many of these children were being subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the time, which may have accounted for any misbehaviour. In some cases, the “treatment” received in psychiatric institutions was more akin to punishment.

Some survivors spoke of abuse at every institution or foster home in which they were placed. Beverly Wardle-Jackson, for example, described being abused at Florence Booth Salvation Army Home, Miramar Girls’ Home in Wellington, Strathmore Girls’ Receiving Home, a family home in Christchurch, Fareham House, Porirua Hospital and Oakley Hospital in Auckland (181) She was sent back and forth between some of these institutions, only to be abused afresh.

Chassy Duncan described suffering abuse at placements with relatives, foster homes, family homes, a residential special school, boys’ homes, youth justice residences and third-party care programmes (182) Kerry Johnson described suffering physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the Marylands School run by the Order of St John of God, and abuse at Campbell Park School, as well as social welfare placements and residential hospitals (183)

Individuals’ interests were of little concern to some carers

Many survivors felt keenly that no one had their best interests at heart. They said no one asked them what they wanted before being shifted from placement to placement. There was no way to talk about the way they were being treated or to express concerns about placements, particularly if they were being returned to unsafe homes. There was no one to whom they could feel safe reporting abuse. Staff seemed overwhelmed and overworked.

Some said they rarely met their social worker. Few reported a relationship with an adult who might offer them guidance or support. The lack of any permanent foster home added to the sense of being swallowed up in a system unconcerned about their fate. The failure to place them with their own extended family or whānau, the separation from siblings and the inability to see their own family during holidays reinforced the sense of isolation from anyone who might care for them.

Some said their foster or adoptive parents treated them differently to the family’s biological children (184) They were made to eat separately and do excessive household chores and manual labour. Others spoke of being called by laundry numbers instead of names.

Some disabled people reported the absence of the most basic levels of care. They were left in soiled or wet clothes or left alone without company or stimulation. In addition, some were drugged and beaten.

Impact of abuse in care

The consequences of abuse in care can be profound and lifelong. Some are more visible – damaged health, drug use, alcoholism, crime – and some are less apparent although no less real – emotional disconnection, poor relationships, damaged mental health, anger and grief. These effects reverberate beyond survivors to their families, whānau and communities and society generally.

What we heard from survivors about the impact of abuse on their lives matched that found in literature on the subject, both here and overseas, as well as the testimony given to us by experts in the field.

Many survivors have shown great courage, resilience and fortitude, overcoming enormous hurdles to get an education, get employment, deal with the damage done to them, form healthy relationships and generally rebuild their lives. However, many have struggled on some or all of these fronts. Some have taken their own lives, unable to bear the suffering caused by their abuse.

Specific research on the consequences of abuse in care is limited in New Zealand, particularly in distinguishing the different effects of abuse in care on different groups of survivors, such as Māori, Pacific people, people with disabilities, women and girls. What research does exist shows a correlation – but not a definite causal link – between abuse and adverse consequences. It will be challenging, if not impossible, to exclude the effect of other factors, such as abuse suffered before or after a person was in care.

A particular feature of abuse suffered while in care can be a distrust of authority. We observed that those abused in State institutions frequently were distrustful – and even fearful – of institutions and authority. Those abused in faith-based settings also commonly experienced a loss of faith or spirituality.

Abuse can hurt individuals for life

Abuse hurts for a lifetime. It can manifest in a few, many or all aspects of a survivor’s life, at various times and at various intensities. From the testimony we heard and evidence we gathered, it is clear abuse can lead to poor physical health. Many survivors reported disability or long-term illness later in life.

Survivors of abuse are much more likely to experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol and drug misuse and suicide (185). Loss of identity, innocence and belonging, loss of educational and employment opportunities, and loss of spiritual or cultural identity are other consequences, as are low self-esteem, self-loathing, recurring feelings of guilt, shame, anger and grief (186).

Impairments of all sorts are another impact of abuse, whether in behaviour, emotional regulation, decision-making or intellectual, language or memory abilities, particularly for those who suffered prolonged or severe abuse as children (187)

Relationship and interpersonal problems also arise, whether with partners, close family members or social interactions generally (188). Anti-social behaviour, gang membership, criminal behaviour, poverty and homelessness are other consequences, as are distrust or fear of authority.

Almost without exception, survivors we spoke to said they continued to feel the impact of abuse to the present day. Arthur Taylor described it as a deeply embedded painful thorn that accompanied the memories of his time in care (189). Tanya and Georgina Sammons described how they continue to suffer from anger and are mocked by their workmates for their poor reading and spelling (190), Cheryl Munro described how her son James, at nearly 50, still has nightmares and “still puts clothes against his door to stop the brutal teacher coming in to attack him” (191).

Physical consequences include serious injuries and medical conditions

Survivors told us about immediate physical injuries from abuse, such as wounds, bruises, head injuries and internal injuries, that were rarely adequately treated at the time the injury was sustained.

They also reported chronic longer-term medical conditions resulting from the abuse, including incontinence, migraines, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, malnourishment, sexually transmitted diseases, chronic pain, impaired brain functioning and memory loss (192).

One survivor, now 49, recalled: “I had so much migraines. They found me with pressure on my brain and when I went for the x-ray, I remember the doctor came back and going, ‘Have you been involved in a car accident?’ I go, ‘No’. He said, ‘Your brain looks like you’ve been in a car accident.’ I’m going, ‘It’s okay, it’s just all the violence I had to suffer growing up’ ”(193).

Another survivor, Anne Hill, told us how as an adult, she had to have a lobe of her lung removed partly because of the effects of untreated pneumonia she suffered while at a Catholic orphanage: “I developed a serious lung abscess and infection in my 20s and at age 27, I had a left lobe of my lung removed… During this operation there was a discussion as to when I had started coughing. It was then that it was suggested that I had ‘pits’ in my lungs due to the pneumonia I suffered from, and never got properly treated, as a child at [the orphanage]”(194).

Research done here and overseas similarly shows that those abused in institutional care in childhood suffer poorer health outcomes generally (195) These include frequent physical illnesses and more doctor and hospital visits as an adult for a variety of health conditions, such as chronic pain and asthma (196).

Mental health issues, including psychiatric disorders, are particularly common

One of the consequences survivors most often mentioned was the impact on their mental wellbeing (197).  Daily life is clearly a struggle for many. They have suffered from PTSD, including flashbacks as often as daily, as well as anxiety, depression, mental distress, including nightmares and sleeping difficulties, and problems with drugs and alcohol. It was not uncommon for survivors to describe repeated suicide attempts. One survivor, in a private session, described these attempts and how they affected her parents:

“Poor mum and dad. I mean, ’cos I, at this stage of my life, I was trying to harm myself and I just wanted to die, you know… I started to feel so bad about myself that I just – I couldn’t see any point in living like this and I felt like I was disappointing my parents, and my sister had succeeded in nursing, and here was me, just shaming the family and, you know, ending up in psychiatric hospital. Poor things… it was so shocking for them. In fact, one time dad went almost white overnight. He’d heard that I’d ended up in the life support or something. I’d tried to kill myself ... I attempted suicide 180 times.”

Overseas research and inquiries also show that survivors of abuse have high rates of mental illness, including strong links to PTSD, alcohol and substance abuse, mood-related disorders, anxiety and anti-social personality disorders, and frequent thoughts about suicide or attempts at suicide (198).

Feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem pervade survivors’ lives. It was common for survivors to describe frequent feelings of anger, sometimes at “the system”, sometimes at individuals, and often disproportionate to triggering events. Many struggled to control their anger without violence, and worried about what it might lead to. One survivor, in a private session, talked about how anger had taken over his life:

“I’m just an angry man. That’s why I’ve never left prison ever since I came in in 2008. I’ve been taking out my anger on authority, officers, just using violence to take out my anger of what happened to me because I could never forget it. I can never erase it out of my mind. I’m always reminded of it every day and when I do have bad flashbacks, when I go dark, I can’t control, I just lash out, using violence either against the prison officers or other prisoners.”

Survivors’ relationships are disrupted

Many survivors find it extremely difficult later in life to trust people or form close relationships, including with their own families. Some find it difficult to socialise, interact with people or function in society generally because of low self-worth and anxiety about how they are perceived or how they might act – or rather, react – in certain situations.

Those abused as children are more likely to be subjected to violence later in life, and develop insecure attachment styles associated with relationship difficulties (199) Some survivors spoke of the particular impact of sexual abuse on their sexual relationships with partners later in life. Some told us that they felt unable to show affection or hug their children.

As survivor Fa’afete Taito  put it, State care robbed him of the ability to love (200):

“The world of State care and the gangs takes away your ability to love and care. My mother loved me, but I lost the protective power of that love when I was removed and made a State ward. I learned that interactions with others should be aggressive, antagonistic, violent, and focused on trying to get one over the other person… Losing the ability to love is a profound and deep loss and one that many men in my situation have also experienced… we did not know how to love our partner and kids in a healthy way.”

In some cases, the struggles survivors have faced in raising children have led to their children in turn being removed from them and placed in care. Removal of children was deeply upsetting and traumatic for survivor parents. Some saw it as a result of authorities’ stigmatisation, or focus on their history, rather than on their progress in overcoming the impact of their abuse. One such parent said in a private session:

“I think OT [Oranga Tamariki] don’t realise how much some parents do actually change.

I mean, I’ve changed from being abused, being sexually assaulted, being raped, being physically beaten to a pulp, to trying to be the best mother I can be, but CYFS, they don’t want to see that. They want to see their side. They want to see the bad. They want to see the negative. They don’t want to see the positive changes that people have made. And a lot of these survivors, they’ve changed their lives dramatically and impacted a lot with their children. And some of them, they end up losing their children to Child, Youth and Family because of their history, which is unfair on the parent and is unfair on the family.”

Survivors may experience disconnection from their culture and faith

As already mentioned, many Māori felt disconnected from their culture, whakapapa and whenua after being placed in care. They became alienated from their spiritual values, language, culture and identity. Studies of indigenous children in care in Canada and in Australia showed similar outcomes.

Pacific survivors also spoke of profound disconnection and loss of identity, and of creating a new identity revolving around gang affiliations and violent behaviour (201). Fa’afete Taito told us about a deep institutional resistance when he described himself as Samoan (202):

“[The guard at Ōwairaka] asked me what I was. I said I was Samoan and he said no you’re not and asked me asked me if I was a New Zealand citizen. I said I was, and he said: ‘Well, you’re a New Zealander then.’ From then on, when I was asked, I would say I was a New Zealander.”

Many who were abused in faith- based institutions lost trust in the church and religious practice, and some spoke of having their faith taken from them as a result of abuse – particularly if they felt the church had concealed, or facilitated the concealment of, the abuse. Said one survivor: “They robbed me of my faith, the Catholic Church. They really did… That’s what I believe in. I honestly hope and pray that there’s some spiritual thing after we die” (203):

Survivors may continue to face educational and employment hurdles

Many survivors continued to grapple with the effects of receiving only a limited education, whether simply not provided, interrupted by constant school or care setting changes, or disrupted by the cognitive or behavioural impact of abuse. As one survivor said: “I had trouble with numeracy and literacy… Why would I want to learn? You know, I was trying to survive” (204).

Even some survivors who made deliberate efforts as adults to complete their education or obtain further education found that their limited schooling affected their ability to get or keep jobs. This had significant and continuing financial consequences, as well as reinforcing their sense of self-worth or feelings of shame. We have no doubt many of the intelligent and capable survivors who have spoken to us would have achieved very different life outcomes but for the abuse suffered in care.

Survivors sometimes turn to gangs or crime

There is a well-documented, although not inevitable, link between being in care and associating with or joining gangs, or becoming involved in crime and ending up in prison (205) ( For some, time in care and the people they met there were their first interaction with criminal activity. One survivor with first-hand experience put it this way (206):

" ‘Oh, hey, there’s my bro’ from jail, you know, he got no family either, so we’re mates.’ I thought that the government at the time, they actually turned you into a gang member… the day they put you in there when you’re a young kid, you meet other young kids in the same sort of situation and you grew up to – you went to jail and then you became a gang member. Because by the time you went out of there, society…[it] don’t acknowledge you as a good person, I suppose.”

Survivors told us gangs gave them a sense of belonging and identity, and this was particularly so for Māori and Pacific people, who faced the additional burden of loss of identity and cultural connection. Others turned to crime as a way to survive.

Many survivors told us that the more involved they became in the world of crime and gangs, the more difficult it was to lead a productive and crime-free life. Some felt their path in life had been fixed, making it difficult for them to determine their own future or re-establish a normal life.

Criminal convictions compounded the difficulties survivors faced in finding employment, while time spent in prison disrupted family relationships. Some survivors expressed regret that they had not been a supportive parent because they had spent most of their children’s lives in prison.

Abuse harms families and has intergenerational effects

Survivors’ family members often suffer the consequences of abuse, too. Family members described feeling either powerless if aware at the time of the abuse, or guilty for having failed to protect loved ones if aware only later on. We have heard from family members who have loyally supported survivors through the long and painful process of trying to get justice, at significant cost to themselves.

Some survivors, including Pacific people, spoke of how being abused in care would bring stigma to their whole family, and how this prevented them from disclosing the abuse to family members or lodging complaints.

Later generations also suffered consequences because survivors found the impact of abuse affected their own parenting. We heard of many cases in which survivors inflicted violence on the next generation. Georgina Sammons told the redress hearing (207):

“The abuse itself  has had an ongoing impact on how we view ourselves  and what we expect from family relationships. Both [my sister] and I have been in abusive relationships as adults that have also affected our kids. When I was a really young mum, I used to hit my kids too. When I got a bit older, I realised that one day I might really hurt them and had to stop. I don’t hit my kids any more, but I still struggle to control anger and the desire to be violent because that was how I was shown things should be dealt with. I also wasn’t there for my kids in some ways – I didn’t go to sports games and things because I didn’t know that was what a parent was supposed to do. My daughter used to walk herself to her netball games.”

Some children of survivors were themselves removed into care, resulting in feelings of disconnection from their family and culture and loss of identity or, worse, might suffer abuse in care themselves.

Some survivors told us they were themselves children of parents who had been in care and described abuse they suffered both at the hands of their parents and caregivers in placements (208). Other children of abuse survivors also suffered from the disconnection experienced by their parents. Hope Curtin, for example, was separated as a one- year-old from her mother who had suffered an abusive childhood in foster care (209):

“[My mum] had such a rough life and carried so much pain with her that she couldn’t  live a normal life. The abuse she suffered had affected her ability to look after me, even though she loved and cared about me. It’s extremely hard to explain how hard it is to lose a mum at such a young age… I have also not had the chance to know my own family. I had no connection with my mum’s side at all ... I know nothing of our Māori heritage. I am only just starting to come to terms with everything now and find out where I come from.”

Māori communities have suffered particular consequences

Abuse in care harms the mana, autonomy, physical and mental health of Māori children. Survivors have told us of losing their Māori identity, connection with culture, language and whakapapa.

The taking of so many Māori children into care also damages Māori communities, and strikes at the heart of tikanga Māori and Māori autonomy, or tino rangatiratanga. The health and welfare of their future leaders, their rangatahi, is a matter whose importance to Māori cannot be underestimated.

Whānau have watched as more and more of their children have gone into care, only to emerge with poor education and employment prospects, a lack of connection to their whakapapa, profound psychological damage, a greater likelihood of committing crime, and a greater likelihood that their children – and their children’s children – will also end up in care, perpetuating a cycle of neglect, abuse and trauma.

There is a clear association between the high number of Māori children in care and the high number of Māori in prison (210). As at November 2020, Māori men make up 52 per cent of the male prison population, while Māori women make up 60 per cent of the female prison population. Professor Stanley told us officials were more likely to regard children, once institutionalised, as worthy of further incarceration. Māori communities suffer the social costs of these high incarceration rates.

The economic cost to society is large

Quite aside from the profound social and human costs, there is a significant economic cost to abuse. This includes financial costs to the economy from spending on healthcare, justice, police and social welfare, and productivity losses.

Advocates Sonja Cooper and Amanda Hill have obtained actuarial calculations of the cost of the loss caused by abuse suffered by some of their clients. For three recent clients, the actuary calculated the cost for each client at between $590,000 and $910,000 (211).

We commissioned a report for a high-level estimate of the economic cost to New Zealand of abuse in care since 1950 (212). The report’s authors estimate the average lifetime economic and non-monetary cost for each person abused in care will be $857,000 (in today’s dollars).

Applying this figure to the estimated number of people abused in care, the authors estimate the cost to the economy of abuse between 1950 and today at between $20.8 billion and $46.7 billion. Adding a sum to reflect the pain, suffering and premature death of survivors, the authors put the total cost in the range of $96 billion to $217 billion. This is a broad, indicative estimate. It relies on the estimates of the number of people abused in care, and so faces the same constraints described earlier, as well as limitations in accurately identifying the impact of abuse in care and the cost of addressing that impact. But despite these limitations, the estimate gives an indication of just how much this abuse costs New Zealanders and the economy.

Preventing and responding to abuse in care

Common factors underlying abuse in care

Preventing abuse first requires an understanding of the factors commonly seen in abuse  cases, including the failures of institutions and carers. A lack of vetting, training and oversight of those in positions of authority is one such factor. Survivors have frequently mentioned poor management of the staff or carers who controlled most or all aspects of their lives. They have described a lack of vetting, training and supervision, a frequently cited example being social workers who visited their home but spoke to them only in the presence of the carer who was also the abuser. As a result, they had no connection with their social worker and could not trust that he or she would take action to protect them against any abuse they disclosed.

The Confidential Listening and Assistance Service heard similar stories of social workers whose sole focus seemed to be finding a placement, rather than true concern for, or attention to, the lives of the children concerned. Some survivors either never saw a social worker or fleetingly saw a string of social workers in the course of being moved from place to place, with the result that they were unable to form a trusting bond with any one of them. In turn, the social workers learned too little about them to pick up signs that something was wrong.

Institutional culture that condones violence or devalues residents is another factor. Survivors described understaffed institutions where staff seemed overwhelmed and overworked. Many spoke of violence and harsh physical discipline as the norm. They said staff either failed to eradicate or actively encouraged “no-narking” and “kingpin” cultures.

Some described practices intended to erase individual identity, such as requiring residents to dress the same and have the same haircut. Some described restrictions on contact with outside adults, such as parents or social workers.

Organisations seldom recognised signs of abuse, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Many survivors said they ran away to escape from abuse, but this was dismissed as bad behaviour, rather than seen as a signal that something might be wrong within the institution or home. Many also described the silence – and tacit approval – of staff in the face of known or suspected abuse as well as situations where known or suspected abusers were able to move to different institutions.

Barriers and responses to disclosure of abuse

Many individuals described the formidable barriers to disclosing abuse. There was often no clear process or no direct contact with adults who could be regarded as safe. Even when there was such contact, the outcome was far from predictable, as Joan Bellingham recalled: “During my treatment at Princess Margaret [Hospital], I remember making several complaints to individual doctors. I wasn’t sure at the time if they were ‘official’ complaints. I was never even sure whether we, as patients, could make an ‘official’ complaint. No one ever listened… I would tell my parents, but they never questioned authority” (213).

The barriers were particularly high for those with disabilities or from Pacific families. Having either limited ability to read or write or limited ability to speak English, they felt unable to voice their concerns or challenge authority. Many feared the consequences of disclosure, either for themselves or for their family.

Survivors spoke of the power of their abusers to falsify reports or records, so that any disclosure would not be believed. Some also said they did not understand until much later that they were being abused. Some never fully comprehend the abuse. Gay Rowe told us she found out about the sexual abuse of her disabled brother only because former staff members disclosed it to her lawyers (214).

We heard many examples of inadequate or harmful responses to abuse. Many were simply not believed, and no action was taken. Survivors who reported abuse in psychiatric care settings felt at a particular disadvantage because psychiatrists, doctors and nurses were highly regarded figures whose word was seldom doubted. Rarely was action taken against the alleged perpetrator.

Similarly, those abused in faith- based institutions felt their complaints of abuse by nuns or clergy would not be believed. Ann-Marie Shelley told us: “After her punishment, [the nun] told me not to tell my parents because they would not believe me. Parents believed nuns, she said, not bad little girls”  (215).

Sometimes punitive measures were meted out to victims who reported abuse. Earl White recalled the threat of punishment for making complaints at Hokio Beach Training School in Levin: “When you first got to the home, the first things you were told is you don’t inform on the boys and you definitely don’t lay any complaints about staff members because it would only cause you trouble. If someone did inform, they just ended up getting beaten up” (216).

In other cases, concerns were ignored, and victims were placed back in abusive families or settings after their disclosure. We also heard about active attempts to cover up abuse and/ or transfer the abuser or abusers after victims made allegations. Survivors said that institutions often seemed more concerned about preserving their own reputation than looking after the welfare of those in their care.

Some of these factors and barriers have changed since the survivors experiencing them were in care. For example, the Crown advises that mandatory police vetting has been in place for children’s workers since 2014, and Oranga Tamariki has an advisory group made up of care-experienced young people who provide input into how care operates today. However, based on information and evidence we have received to date, we remain concerned that some of the factors and barriers continue to exist in care to this day.

Next: Part four - What we have learned about State redress processes