A survivor of abuse in care says the Government’s intention to establish an independent redress scheme for people like him has the potential to be “monumental”.
At 10 years old, after his father’s death, Keith Wiffin was taken into state care at Epuni Boys’ home in Wellington.
Wiffin, now 62, was at the home during the 1970s and was sexually abused. He complained, which led to the criminal conviction of his abuser.
On Tuesday, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in care’s interim report was tabled in Parliament. Its key recommendation is to establish a new redress scheme, in partnership with Māori and survivors.
Wiffin told Breakfast it was “monumental” that something like it was happening, and said he felt the Government was “authentic” and “sincere” in wanting to take action on the recommendations.
“The recommendations must be embraced. At a minimum, survivors are owed that. So, we’re on the precipice of doing something meaningful for survivors who waited far too long,” he said.
Wiffin had tried to obtain redress from the Ministry of Social Development but was initially rebuffed. It wasn’t until later that the ministry made an ex gratia settlement.
Since then, he’d been advocating for change in the redress process.
Wiffin said it was common for survivors, if they spoke out as adults about their experiences in care, to face resistance.
“It was about finding ways to defeat us, sweep it under the carpet and keep it from the public,” he said.
“Some very senior people in this country have presided over a culture of resistance, obstruction and denial.”
He said he was glad the Government had now taken responsibility and acknowledged their past failures.
“We weren’t treated as human beings - it was all about them doing their very best to deny us compensation. That’s what motivates all the resistance.
“So, now, what Government is quite rightly saying is that is not acceptable and we need to have a new approach.”
The Government needed to act quickly to set up the redress scheme as many of the survivors were now of old age, he said.
But, Wiffin said, “appalling abuse” was still happening.
He encouraged the Government to investigate new models of care and why people went into care in the first place.
The Royal Inquiry was established in 2018 to look at what happened to children, young people, and vulnerable adults who were in the care of the state or faith-based institutions.
To date, the inquiry, which is due to release its final report in 2023, has heard the accounts of more than 1500 people, held more than 80 hearings and analysed more than 150,000 documents.
Its interim report, titled He Purapura Ora, he Mara Tipu: From Redress to Puretumu Torowhanui, describes how at the heart of its 95 recommendations is a desire to put survivors first.
The report, which delivered a damning condemnation of the Crown, Government agencies and faith-based institutions’ treatment of survivors, said that until now, the system had worked against those who tried to speak out.
Minister for Public Service Chris Hipkins said even though the inquiry was ongoing, it is important to act now.
“We want to minimise delays for survivors who are waiting for their claims to be resolved,” he said.
“We are conscious of the age and ill-health of many of the survivors who suffered abuse at a time when care was heavily institutionalised.”
Hipkins said work on the redress scheme would begin next year, between relevant parties, with a target to have it fully established by mid-2023.