Child Abuse in State Care

Criminal Justice Photo Art by AdSChild Abuse in State Care may not seem a logical topic to discuss on this blog where unsolved homicides and wrongful convictions dominate. However, criminal justice and human rights defense are my background. As such, it is a perfect fit.

New Zealand is facing international scrutiny for widespread child abuse of children who were placed in state care. From Stuff/Politics: “The Government will not offer a formal public apology to all children who were in state care during a 50 year period of brutal abuse.

The final report of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service has detailed the harrowing experiences of children at the hands of people who were meant to keep them safe.

The report, which heard evidence from more than 1100 people, is still under consideration by the Government. The abuse detailed in the report covers foster homes, institutions, asylums, health camps and borstals from the early 1940s up to 1992.” The final report referred to can be found here.

Grant Mahy was one of the children who was abused while in state care. On his website he details the process, the stories, and the government’s refusal to take responsibility for their actions. I use Grant’s story and website materials with his explicit permission. He feels strongly that more people need to know what happened.

In 1978, Grant was 11 years old and he lived at the Mount Wellington Residential School for Maladjusted Children. This was a school of last resort for New Zealand’s most troubled children. It was founded in 1960. In 1980, the school moved to Bucklands Beach and was renamed the Waimokoia Residential School. In Maori this means “troubled waters.”

In 2009, Education Minister Anne Tolley closed this school. She had the children’s best interest in mind as the school experienced managerial difficulties. However, between those managerial issues were reports and complaints about child abuse as well. As Education Minister, Tolley knew about several police investigations into the school, the staff, and their care for children. When Tolley announced the closing of the school, she was confronted again with the complaints and had to admit that she knew about the time-out room.

The time-out room was actually a small shed-like building and not a room inside the school. It was located near the school’s tennis courts. It was a place where abuse and torture ruled unopposed. It was the place where children were sent as punishment and where these children knew, their souls and spirits would be crushed in all kinds of unimaginable ways. It was a room where sadism and cruelty ruled over common sense, integrity, and children’s rights.

The trial of former social worker Graeme McCardle finally opened the public’s eyes to the systematic abuse that occurred at Waimokoia. McCardle was found guilty of 15 out of the 24 sexual and physical abuse charges that included indecent assault and sexual violation. He received a six-year prison sentence.

For the first time, the public heard of the bizarre practices that went on at Waimokoia. In earlier trials, the school had successfully applied the courts to suppress its identity. With McCardle’s trial, that suppression was lifted.

In the 80s, employees were hired even when they had little to no formal training in child education, special education, or anger management. Employees were hired as a favour to other people or by word of mouth without proper background checking. Personnel oversight  at the school was minimal. Deviant behaviour from the staff went unreported and unchallenged.

In this school, where the children were keenly aware of their situation, the last bits of trust and faith they had in the system and in humanity were mercilessly crushed and shredded to pieces. As a result, some of these children didn’t do well in society as adults.

Grant was beaten, sexually abused, and repeatedly raped by a staff member now deceased. In Grant’s own words:

I wish I could go back in time and turn this all around; to watch out for that kid and his brother and protect them as the man I am now. No one else did!

Part of me died.

A part of me is missing.

A part of me I cannot seem to find. 

What angers me most now is how not a single adult picked up something (anything) was wrong and when they did they failed to report an alleged crime to police.”

Natasha Phillips is a British non-practicing barrister who blogs over at Researching Reform and she is also keeping an eye on New Zealand. Child welfare is her passion and specialty. Her blog is filled with information and links. She just posted about how children in state care feel and what they hear around them, I’d like to refer you to this post.

The kind of language we use around children makes a huge impact on them. Whether a child grows up within a conventional home or one run by the state, words can be comforting and kind, but they can also be cold, destructive tools that damage a child’s development. And it’s often the subtle, ongoing lexicon in a child’s life that affects them the most.”

Her post is based on this article from the Guardian detailing how words add to a child’s emotional development. In this article is a poem by Toni, a child in state care. She used the words she hears around here. I have copied the poem here as it needs to be heard and read by as many people as possible.

On shift, offsite

Menu planner, pathway plan

Full care order, section 20

Grateful, lucky

Welcome pack, clothing allowance

Health and safety, sanctions

Staff rota, staffroom

Sign for, key worker

Your file, care plan

Back to the unit

Semi independence, comply

Risk assessment, activity

Stat visit, staff

Looked after, leaving care

Pep, hand over

Contact, siblings

Aftercare, LAC review

Notice board, negative behaviour

Residential, engaged.

After reading this poem, the images that popped up in my head were detachment, being isolated from love and warmth, being treated as a file to be put away instead of as a human being, cold…

I will continue to blog about the developments in New Zealand especially as related to Grant and the other children (now adults) related to the law suits.


New Zealand’s Historic Abuse Claims

Researching Reform


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