Children’s Commissioner urges government to widen abuse inquiry


Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft says the government should widen its abuse inquiry to include abuse since 2000.

Ministers removed the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care’s ability to investigate more recent cases in April to save cash and time.

These money-saving measures will result in the government being handed an incomplete report that overlooks more than two decades of abuse. Then a second Royal Commission into abuse in care will be needed, Becroft told the government in a letter.

As an example of why he is asking for the abuse inquiry to be widened, his letter references a recent video published by Newsroom. The video shows a young person being tackled, restrained and held in a headlock by Oranga Tamariki staff at a care and protection unit in Christchurch.

An investigation into the incident has been launched. Staff have been stood down and the residence temporarily closed.

“We still hear regularly of children in state care talking about abuse. It’s a live and an ongoing issue and we don’t want the job only three-quarters done,” Becroft says.

The Commission estimates up to 57,000 children and adults have been abused in care since 1999.

In contrast to Becroft’s analysis, Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti insists the Commission has the discretion to look at modern cases, just not investigate them.

“There’s been quite a bit of confusion about that,” she admits.

She says the government has removed the Commission’s ability “to look at a systemic investigation … going into each current care setting and having a systemic investigation.”

The Commission can still hear from individuals and they can still make recommendations about current care settings, Tinetti says.

Becroft thinks some people abused since 2000 will believe their experiences don’t matter because of the government’s decision.

“I think it’s all too easy for us as adults to sort of say historic allegations are more significant. Actually we all stand condemned I think, me included, if we don’t commit ourselves to hearing now what’s also going on. I think that’s so crucial.”

Sonja Cooper, a lawyer representing more than a thousand abuse survivors, shared Becroft’s concerns.

“It is cutting it off at its knees and, of course, there will be calls for another Royal Commission to be set up to do the job of looking at what’s going on now … It’s already clear from those of us that work in this area that actually their current model is a complete and utter failure.”

Tinetti said the Government will not reverse the changes.

It’s parameters have always been for the historic abuse state and faith-based from institutions from 1950 to 1999 – not for current care settings, she says.

These are covered by reviews into modern care providers. Anyone can make a complaint about the treatment of a child or person in care by contacting the Children’s Commissioner, the Ombudsman or the police, Tinetti says.

Commission chair Judge Coral Shaw confirms the Commission can consider contemporary issues and experiences so recommendations can be made to avoid future abuse.”


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