Human Rights Commission joins calls for independent inquiry into state abuse

The Human Rights Commission has joined a throng of renewed calls for an independent inquiry into extensive abuse suffered by children in state care between the 1950s and the 80s.

The Government has ruled out such an inquiry, dismissing the recommendation made by Judge Carolyn Henwood - appointed chair of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS). 

Over a period of three years, The CLAS panel heard the stories of more than 1100 people who were brutalised in state care, particularly in places like boys homes and borstals. More than 100,000 children were placed in state care over that time. 

A disproportionate amount of those victims have wound up in prison, unemployed or still struggle with the effects of the abuse they suffered before 1993. 

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The Government is partway through an accelerated settlement process, which has seen a number of victims given individual apologies for the abuse, along with settlement payments. To date, more than $17m has been paid out.  

But victims, advocacy groups and Henwood herself, have spoken out against the Government's refusal to offer a formal public apology encompassing all abuse suffered in care during that time. 

The Human Rights Commission has joined the chorus, saying an investigation is needed to ensure it never happens again.

"We must ensure the abuse of children and vulnerable adults in state care never happens again. We need to learn from the past to make sure we never repeat it," said Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson.

"The Human Rights Commission supports the call from Judge Carolyn Henwood."

Gibson said if lessons weren't learned from what occurred in the past, it could not be effectively prevented from happening now. 

"As Disability Rights Commissioner I have heard many of the heart wrenching and appalling stories of disabled people in state care and their stories need to be heard," said Gibson.

"We challenge the Government's assertion that there is no disability perspective involved."

Gibson said New Zealanders deserved to know the extent of the abuse suffered by thousands over many years.

"An independent inquiry would investigate and publicly report on the conditions children and vulnerable adults in state care were subjected to. It would identify the policies, practices and monitoring processes that were in place."

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has said the ministry has settled more than 700 claims of the 1100 received. 

An inquiry could only prolong the suffering she said, and open old wounds for many victims. She also defended the Ministry's independence from the issue, given the agency had not been established when the abuse took place. 

A massive rebuild of Child, Youth and Family was underway, with a new Ministry for Vulnerable Children being established. That was off the back of a major investigation in CYF practises, which included heavy consultation with a number of children who had grown up in and out of state care.

 - Stuff