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Experts propose framework for Royal Commission into abuse

Experts propose framework for Royal Commission into abuse of children and vulnerable adults in state and out of home care

One of the Prime Minister’s first 100 day commitments is to “set up an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care”. As the end of those first 100 days approaches, the debate on the key features of the inquiry has intensified. Today a group of leading experts issued a suggested framework for a full Royal Commission to highlight critical elements the authors say are essential if the process is to be credible.

Those elements include:

• Establishing the inquiry at the highest level as a Royal Commission;

• Hearing evidence on different forms of ‘abuse’ and ‘care’ to uncover the full range of physical, sexual, psychological abuse and neglect;

• Covering the experiences of children and vulnerable adults with disabilities in out-of-home care;

• Investigating and reporting on significant issues, including:
- how and why the abuse was perpetuated through structural and systemic processes
- identifying the agencies that were responsible and should be held accountable
- factors that led to the targeting of Māori families by child-welfare agencies and the over-representation of Māori in state care

• Identifying the experiences and impact on Māori, on those with disabilities, and on girls as well as boys.

The suggested framework states that “the Commission must engage in processes that are survivor-focused”. It recommends that the Royal Commission covers historic and contemporary abuse in care, hears evidence from a wide range of people, has powers to compel witnesses and the production of documents and has a significant research capacity.

Amongst other responsibilities it proposes that the Royal Commission adjudicates on monetary payments, undertakes other measure of redress, provides recommendations for the prevention of abuse and addresses the basis for a comprehensive and meaningful apology from the Prime Minister on behalf of the state. A copy is attached.

The suggested framework was developed by:

• Elizabeth Stanley (Associate Professor in Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington)

• Anaru Erueti (Aotearoa New Zealand Centre for Indigenous Peoples, Senior Lecturer, Law School, Auckland University)

• Sonja Cooper (Principal, Cooper Legal)

• Rosslyn Noonan (Director, NZ Centre for Human Rights, Law School, Auckland University).

It is based on a survey, completed by 340 survivors of abuse in state care as at 1 December 2017, and reflects their wishes. Advocates and survivors who have worked on these issues for many years were also consulted.

“We strongly support the official commitment to advance further effective engagement with survivors, their families and whānau, as well as with stakeholders (including whānau, hapu and iwi; NGOs; scholars; legal experts; and community groups) into the design, scope and operations of the Commission,” said Elizabeth Stanley.

Anaru Erueti said: “Working with the Human Rights Commission we have organised a gathering in Wellington at Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington, on 14 and 15 February 2018, of survivors, activists, academics, professionals working in the area, and community-leaders to evaluate the government’s draft terms of reference. We are drawing on the expertise of survivors, local people and and international experts who have recently worked in Commissions overseas.”

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