Labour’s Justice spokesperson, Jacinda Ardern, recently called on the NZ Government to issue an apology for historic abuse in state institutions. Previously Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley had said that she would apologise to any child who was abused in state care.
Ms Ardern spoke last week after the launch of Elizabeth Stanley’s new book “The Road to Hell; State Violence against Children in Post-War New Zealand”. The book is a moving account of the experiences of those placed into state care from the 1950s to the 1980s and the harrowing tales it contains are indeed a persuasive argument for redress and change.
During these years the NZ government removed more than 100,000 children from their families or carers and subjected them to multiple, unsettling transfers. They often came from situations of intense abuse, neglect and poverty and they were placed under state ‘care’ in residential facilities. This included foster homes, orphanages, psychiatric hospitals, health camps, child welfare homes and special education homes. They were often placed with abusive or harmful carers in shabby, overcrowded institutions.
The state may have intended to provide protection and care for these children, but it failed miserably. The truth is that the abuse, violence and neglect that they often experienced while in state ‘care’, was often worse than where they had come from, and only made things worse for the children.
Studies confirm that the harmful legacy of intense trauma related to institutional child abuse often leads to physical and/or mental health problems in adults.