We saw in the previous post “Child Abuse in State Care” that some State Care Facilities were riddled with mismanagement, failing human resource standards, and insiders turning a blind eye to criminal activity. The story of the Epuni Boys Home is not different from the Waimokoia Residential School where Grant Mahy was abused.
The Epuni Boys Home was located on 441 Riverside Drive, Lower Hutt, New Zealand. Right now, #441 is a Child Youth and Family Justice, Care and Protection facility. But from 1959 to 1980, it served as one of 26 state-run homes established in the second half of the last century.
The Dominion describes Epuni as “a place that dealt with 8000 boys and young men in its 30-odd years” and that “Epuni Boys’ Home nevertheless went under the radar of many.” The Epuni children were between 9 and 16 years old when they were abused by the staff.
Epuni started as a shelter for boys but it became a “holding pen for the youth courts, which were completely overwhelmed, and you had this mixing in of kids with problematic circumstances with others coming down from the courts” as per the Dominion. “A problem was that it ended up mixing boys and young men who had done little more than wag school and resist parents’ attempt at control with peers with much bigger problems.”
Some staff members have been prosecuted. Some of the boys have told their story once they reached adulthood. One of these boys is “Joe.” Joe was born on April 16, 1969. This is a summary of his story.
When he was five years old, Joe moved in with his grandparents. His parents separated about two years later after years of struggling with their marriage. When Joe was around eight years old, his grandfather fell ill and passed away at age 86.
Joe spent the next three years shuttling between the homes of his father and grandmother (he doesn’t mention his mother). Around age 11, he starts to roam the streets. Two years later, Joe leaves his grandmother’s care and enters the welfare care system. He had broken in to a local intermediate school in Marton. After his conviction, he was placed in the care of the State and sent to a family home in Whanganui. He did not like that family home and run away to go back to Marton. He spent time between several family homes but never finding peace he remained restless. Ultimately, he was sent to the Epuni Boys Home in Wellington. When he was sixteen, Joe managed to get back to Marton and stayed at his grandma’s. Why he could not stay there is not described in his story.
Looking back, Joe says that he “spent 27 years of my life with these memories of what has happened to me. I have been unable to talk about these things because I have always believed no one has cared and that no one would believe me against employees of the Government. I have spent my whole life living pillar to post and never being able to hold down a full time job. I have failed at everything I have tried to do. I never knew all this time the things causing me the most grief were that of my past.” You can read about the abuse Joe suffered here.
About Epuni, Joe says: “The place was nothing but a breeding ground for young offenders who would probably spend the rest of their lives in and out of institutions like myself. It ran on fear and intimidation, not only by staff but also boys. Staff ruled with threats of solitary confinement or a good beating away from the other boys.”
I read some newspaper articles about the Epuni abusers. The abuse that popped up ranged from beatings and dragging kids to wrestling holds, groping, sexually touching, cross-gender shower watching and performing cross-gender lice treatments.
Karl was also at Epuni. He became a career criminal after staying there. He arrived at Epuni when he was just eleven years old after he stole some snacks from a local cricket club. He said that Epuni made him violent. A violence that he kept inside well into his adult life and into his marriage with Penny. Despite the domestic violence, she stayed with Karl which affected his change. Now he works with “troubled young men through a rugby league skills program and talks to them about what happened to him.” Because Penny believed in him Karl learned about the value of loyalty, trust, and faith. Now he tells others to change their lives and to ask for help.
But what happened to the abusers? There does not seem to be a broad clean sweep.
In 2011, Ivan D. Chambers (70) who worked at Epuni and is mentioned in Joe’s story, appealed his convictions on eight indecent assault charges between 1979-1983 of six Epuni boys. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Chambers denied the assaults but did not take the stand. is lawyer raised health issues to oppose his prison time but that was denied.
Despite the fact that there are so many child abuse cases, 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.”
I hope that some day someone in authority will understand that just offering a procedure for compensation is not the same as accepting responsibility for the criminal actions by state employees.
Other information about Epuni can be found in “Little Criminals” which is a New Zealand on Air-funded documentary that looks at the treatment of children in state care between the 1960s and the 1990s.” The name and topic were inspired by David Cohen’s 2011 book about Epuni.
I found this photograph where you can see the Epuni Boys Home and one of the punishments the boys faced.
I will try to find more information. If you come across links related to convicted abusers who used to work at the Epuni Boys Home, please contact me.