It is time to listen, believe, and act

He aha te kai ō te rangatira? He Kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.

What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge. It is communication.

At BVA The Practice we strive to be leaders in our field and share our knowledge with the community. In this article, Michael Blaschke discusses the recently announced Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse of children in state care and the life-long implications.

New Zealand has a dark history of abuse. Many children have experienced abuse whilst in the care of the state. For those children, the state failed in its role as their caregiver. Recently, the Government has released the draft terms of reference about launching a Royal Commission of Inquiry that will be conducted to explore historical abuse of children in state care. This inquiry is an opportunity for the State to accept their responsibility and wrongdoings whilst also allowing for victims to tell their stories and obtain closure. The inquiry will not have the power to order payments – but it will consider the existing redress processes and recommend new ones. The Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, commented that the purpose of the Inquiry is to focus on people not institutions. Ultimately, it is expected that there will be an apology from the Government.

The timeframe of the inquiry will be 50 years from 1950 to 1999. Since much of the offending occurred many years ago, if these cases were to be prosecuted as criminal cases there may be a variety of issues from the death of the perpetrator to a lack of evidence. It is important to remember that it was a person who abused a child, not an institution. There is still a person responsible for the acts of abuse and, where possible, a person should still be held accountable. As the focus of this inquiry is on the role of the State rather than a witch-hunt, the inquiry still does allow for the victims to have an opportunity to be heard, believed, and see some form of action arise from their stories.

A key criticism of the inquiry is that the scope is not wide enough to include all cases of historical child abuse. While it is wholly understandable that the victims of abuse in non-state institutions want to see a wider inquiry, the advantage of focusing on state institutions is that this inquiry will likely establish and provide more restitution for those victims. A state focused inquiry will be able to draw a clearer link between children who were abused in state care and victims revictimised, which we see in our Courts regularly. The inquiry may also reveal that behavioural issues of children within state care, starting in adolescence, resulted from experiences of abuse. In many cases, those issues will have manifested themselves in poor life outcomes, which may have required further state assistance.
Such a finding will enable us as a country to be honest about things that have driven our very high incarceration rates. Perhaps this inquiry will start a conversation that honestly discusses how we can reduce the number of New Zealanders in prison by addressing our child abuse problems. The offenders of today often seem to have been the victims of yesterday. Reducing child abuse in the first place will help slow the cycle of offending.

By listening to the victims, this inquiry will hopefully be able to recommend what apologies and redress the Government owes them, and how that should be established. The present redress systems are inadequate.

With approximately 5000 children currently in state care it is important that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern commented that one of the purposes of the inquiry was “to ensure that policy is changed to minimize the risk of this happening in the future”. By honestly addressing the past, we can put measures in place to stop history repeating itself.

– Michael Blaschke, Lawyer, BVA | The Practice

Michael and Ben Vanderkolk will be closely following the development of the final terms of reference for the Commission. The Public feedback process will begin once the full draft terms of reference are released. We would be happy to assist victims who wish to make submissions on the terms of reference for the inquiry. Given Ben’s extensive experience preparing physical and sexual abuse victims for the ordeal and trauma of trial, he is willing to help strengthen and prepare victims to tell their story to the Inquiry if the process permits.