December 22nd, 2017 | Merepeka Raukawa-Tait | The NZ Herald
If Australia can do it so can we. It's not a job for the faint hearted and it'll take a few years if we want to do it justice - undertake a review of the care of children in state institutions.
Australia's review took five years. The former prime minister Julia Guillard thought a review was warranted and long overdue. Her Government set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The upshot: It is not a case of a few "rotten apples". Society's major institutions have seriously failed, the report stated.
Nothing to be proud of but you can't say it's only Australia that has this historical problem with the abuse of children in state care. We're right there alongside them.
Reports from many countries suggest where children have been taken into care this somehow brings out the very worst in adult carers. It's hard to imagine the scale of abuse children worldwide have suffered.
We tend to look at the highly publicised abuse children suffered in religious institutions but state care fares no better. Vulnerable children in society became even more vulnerable in their authorised care placements. They were not kept safe. Thousands have disclosed they lived their lives in a state of constant terror.
The inquiry was Australia's longest running royal commission, investigating since 2012. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recommends all Australians read the commission's report.
"Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number," the report said.
The numbers tell it all: more than 8000 survivors testified. Nearly two-thirds were men. One in five survivors (21 per cent) was abused in more than one type of institution. Half the survivors were aged between 10 and 14 the first time they were abused. Girls were more likely to be younger at the time of abuse. Almost 2500 survivors were abused in an institution managed by the Catholic Church. Some impacts on victims were immediate and temporary. Others lasted throughout adulthood. Many adult perpetrators of abuse held roles associated with positions of leadership, power and authority.
Survivors of state care in New Zealand have been calling for an inquiry for years. They have been knocked back at every turn.
Some support has been provided in recent years by the Government's Confidential Listening and Assistance Service. It's what you have to be content with when a full scale inquiry does not find favour with the government.
We harmed children with impunity in our institutions too. They were sexually abused, beaten and terrorised, not kept safe and afforded the protection they deserved. Up until now survivors were not going to get an opportunity to tell New Zealand and the world what happened to them.
Our new Government is prepared to look into the treatment of New Zealand children placed in state care. In the past state care has been used as an indicator of how well you will do in the future; where you are heading and likely to end up. Wrong side of the track, in other words.
The survivors have waited long enough to tell their harrowing stories. Why they were placed in care in the first place, what happened to them, and what they experienced when they tried to tell someone.
Whether our review will be a royal commission, government or ministerial inquiry is not yet decided. Neither are the terms of reference. What we can be sure of is that survivors will at last be respectfully heard. We will hear the extent of their suffering and like the Australian Royal Commission, recommendations will follow, theirs totalled 189.
I believe our inquiry will serve up similar results to Australia. As a country we will have to hang our heads in shame. But an inquiry gives us the opportunity to inform today's institutions how they can get it right for those children who must be placed in state care.
Children's lives matter. They always have. Somewhere along the way authorities lost the plot. Time for fearless leadership to signal a new direction in the protection of vulnerable children.
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