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Insights from Interim Report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into historic abuse of children in state care  

The Royal Commission of Inquiry has realised its interim report on the historic abuse of children while in state care. The report provided insights into the occurrence of abuse on over a quarter of a million children. I'll repeat that: over a quarter of a million children. Here is the direct quote from the news article on this point: 


An interim report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into historic abuse of children in state care estimated that up to 256,000 people were abused between 1950 and 2019. This accounts for almost 40% of the 655,000 people in care during that period.

The problem applies to 40% of the children in state or faith-based care. That means it wasn't occasional, exceptional, it was routine. It also extended to the modern period. I tend to think of 1950 in much the same way I think of another country. Irretrievably and obviously alien. Some of the attitudes that my father grew up with are simply baffling to us now. But plenty of kids went through care between the year 2000 and 2019. 


The report examined the extent of abuse from 1950 to 2019. The report is a result of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stating that we needed to address this aspect of New Zealand history. The report provided fist hand accounts of the abuse inflicted in state care and religious homes. Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins noted that report was difficult to read and that all children should have been safe when in care. The report reported that children as young as 9 months were victims of abuse although most victims were aged between 5 and 17. It was common for most children to endure the abuse for many years with the report noting that most were abused for 5 to 10 years. Abuse ranged from physical, sexual, medical and verbal including racial assault. 

“"The hurt and anguish that has been caused in New Zealand's history is inexcusable," said Minister for the Public Service Chris Hipkins, who described the report as a "difficult read."


"All children in the care of the state should be safe from harm, but as the testimony sets out all too often the opposite was true."

The report said most abuse survivors were aged between 5 and 17, but some were as young as 9 months and as old as 20. Most were abused over a five to 10 year period.


The abuse included physical assault and sexual abuse, with staff in some psychiatric institutions forcing male patients to rape female patients. It also included the improper use of medical procedures including electric shocks on genitals and legs, improper strip searches and vaginal examinations, and verbal abuse and racial slurs.”


Stuff has reported that Minister Hipkins has said that since 2000 changes in state care have already been implemented and more changes are yet to come. Minister Hipkins continued by saying the Government won’t wait until the final report is released to make legislative changes.

“Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins said there had already been improvements to state care since 2000 and more change was coming.

He said the hurt and anguish that had been caused in New Zealand’s history was inexcusable.

“We should never underestimate just how traumatic the experience will have been for the victims. And we should never underestimate what a long legacy that abuse has left.

“This is not New Zealand at its best, it is New Zealand at its absolute worst. I think we would all be horrified by some of their stories,” he said.

On specific changes to Limitation Act, Hipkins said he did not want to pre-empt the commission's final findings.

“But we are not going to just wait until the final report is received.” 


Click here to read more -  for a link to the international news item

Click here to find out more - for a link to the resources published by the commission

Why is this an issue for the life and health insurance sector? The life and health sector has a stake in the wellbeing of New Zealanders. What can be done to promote the health, happiness, and longevity of New Zealanders is literally our business. The impact of the abuse of those in care is very large. There are incredible costs (in suicide, for example) that are harder to quantify. But the commission attempted to quantify the costs of the abuse, and came up with these shocking numbers: 

Economic Cost of Abuse in Care: This report estimates abuse in care is estimated to cost an individual $857,000 over the course of their lifetime; the cost to society for abuse in care between 1950-2019 is up to $217 billion.

You can easily tot up the costs. A kid who is messed up by abuse as a child has difficulty learning, they have a lot of unmanaged pain from the trauma and loss of trust, they easily fall victim to drug or alcohol addiction, and then to being manipulated by gangs, and then to crime. Think of all the knock on costs. Our taxes must manage the increasingly high costs of each of those stages of failure - which began with the state failing to prevent a caregiver from abusing the child in their care. There is a very strong humanitarian and economic case for preventing this. 


It is not happy reading, but good holiday reading if you want to think about an important issue, close to home both literally and figuratively, that could do with some work. I think from a corporate affairs perspective there are some great engagement opportunities to be had in the short term while working for some great long-term outcomes. In the next quarterly life and health report we shall be identifying the top issues affecting life expectancy and quality of life as a guide for insurers looking for ways to engage in a more meaningful way with the causes affecting our customers. You can be sure that this will be on the list. 



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