State agencies to be questioned over failures in care

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

New Zealand state agencies under whose care children, young people and vulnerable adults were abused, will have to explain how it could have occurred under their watch.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care opens ten days of hearings in Auckland tomorrow. Those appearing will include senior staff from agencies such as Oranga Tamariki; the Ministries of Social Development, Health and Education; the Teaching Council; Police and Corrections.

General manager of investigations, Tom Powell, says it's become clear through the thousands of survivors that have given their testimony that they need to know why the abuse happened and who is responsible.

"These stories have largely been untold in the public eye," he says. "I think it is important for New Zealand to understand what happened to these people while they were in care...to shine a light on what happened and give these survivors a voice."

Abuse survivor Keith Wiffin says knowing the various state organisations are to be publicly scrutinised is a momentous occasion, not just for himself, but for the thousands of others that also suffered while in care.

"It means a hell of a lot," he says. "It really does, it's been a long time coming."

Wiffin was just 10 years old when he went into Epuni Boys Home in Lower Hutt during the 1970s. While there he was physically, sexually and psychologically abused.

"[It was] a very dangerous abusive environment, from which there was no escape."

That abuse has been something he's grappled with for most of his life. A burden that became heavier when in his 40s he sought justice from the Crown. Commission documents show he was met with an aggressive defensive strategy from Crown Law.

While he's received some compensation, Wiffin says the state still needs to acknowledge its failures.

"The state for many decades has been in denial, it has attempted to minimise everything and try and sweep it under the carpet because they have the massive resources at their disposal to do that.

"That's led to not only the scale of the tragedy that has occurred, but has also enabled the abuse to continue happening."

An interim Royal Commission of Inquiry report estimates close to a quarter of a million New Zealanders were abused while in the care of state or faith-based institutions between 1950 and 1999.

Established in 2019 it's thought to be the largest and most complex ever undertaken hear. So far it's heard from 2,167 survivors, held 117 days of public hearings and analysed 1,087 documents.

Wiffin hopes tomorrow will be the start of real change.

"I'm hoping they will take ownership of this, that they will be honest, they will be transparent. Most of all I'm hoping there will be a genuine commitment to doing much better things in the future, because only when we see that commitment will we see change."