Still counting cost of decades of neglect

The calls for a Royal Commission are growing louder as shocking new details emerge about the extent of historic abuse in state care, including in Otago.

An  ODT Insight investigation has heard from victims in Dunedin and Otago prepared to speak out for the first time about their treatment at the hands of staff and residents inside state-run facilities.

In the south, the allegations of sexual abuse, violence and neglect centre on the former Dunedin Boys’ Home at Lookout Point and Campbell Park School in the Waitaki Valley, mostly spanning the 1960s to the 1980s.

Wellington-based law firm Cooper Legal, which specialises in claims of institutional abuse, now has more than 100 clients with current claims, yet to be resolved, relating to the two Otago-based institutions.

That was despite settling dozens of claims involving residents at the two institutions in recent years.

Up to 25 former patients at the Cherry Farm Hospital and Seacliff Asylum have also come forward since a national settlement for abuses in psychiatric hospitals was agreed in 2012.

And at least 10 complaints of mistreatment, including violence and sexual abuse, have been levelled against the Roxburgh Health Camp and School, spanning the 1960s to the late 1990s.

Figures released to ODT Insight under the Official Information Act also showed the cost of settling abuse claims was continuing to climb.

The Ministries of Social Development, Education and Health have together paid out more than $24.4million since 2004 while resolving more than 1400 claims.

But that could be just the tip of the iceberg. At least 800 more claims are still open or filed in court, many of them yet to be assessed and some having languished without resolution for years.

And with the Ministry of Education estimating a "worst-case scenario" would push its bill for settling claims up from $288,000 to $3.884million, it appeared the total cost could yet rise significantly higher.

However, the bleak picture still tells only part of the story, those spoken to by ODT Insight have said.

Other victims living with the legacy of abuse were not yet prepared to come forward, were in prison, or had died — sometimes at their own hand, abuse victims and their advocates said.

The Government’s Confidential Listening and Assistance Service heard from 1100 people over seven years, before issuing a damning final report in 2015.

But CLAS chairwoman Judge Carolyn Henwood told ODT Insight the systemic issues at the heart of the state’s failure to protect children were yet to be explored.

The full story would be revealed only if Prime Minister Bill English committed to a formal inquiry, victims, their supporters and politicians agreed.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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