Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Bennett tells abused state victims to claim

Paula Bennett. Photo / Natalie Slade
Paula Bennett. Photo / Natalie Slade

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is encouraging people who were abused as a result of the state being involved in their care, including placement with wider family or in foster homes, to apply for compensation.

Her comments followed the story of "Joanne", who told Marae Investigates she was placed in the care of her uncle, a convicted rapist, after a family group conference in 2001 when she was 16.

She has alleged she was raped and contracted HIV.

Child, Youth and Family has now apologised to her and changed the vetting requirements in such cases.

Ms Bennett said the process changed this year to require police checks when a child was put into the care of extended family as a result of a a family group conference.

Previously, such checks were done only when concerns were raised about the carer.

However, when asked by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei whether any efforts were being made to find other people in similar situations, Ms Bennett would not commit to doing police checks on cases before that loophole was closed.

She said she needed further advice on the resources such checks would require. She said monitoring of such cases had since increased and more resources had been put into settling cases of historical claims of abuse and neglect where the state was involved in deciding on the care of a child.

"So I do say to anyone who thinks they might have historical cases of abuse against them to bring them to the state. We want to hear their story. We want to do everything we can to settle those cases to help them move on in their lives."

Ms Bennett said criminal checks, as well as CYF checks, were now done as a matter of course. Although Joanne had not been in the care of CYF, Ms Bennett said the agency had apologised - "rightly so, I think" - and changed the system. However, she said there were nine people at Joanne's family group conference and some knew her uncle was a convicted rapist, but had not raised it.

Had it been raised, those checks would have taken place.

"So I would say that, yes, Child, Youth and Family most certainly has a role to play, but so do extended whanau and the community."

The maximum that has been paid out to an individual is $80,000. Since November 2008, a total of $3.55 million has been paid out and 272 claims completed. Previously, 54 claims were completed and payouts totalled $375,500.

The Ministry of Social Development has said there is no legal obligation to pay compensation, but a moral obligation sometimes arose where its actions were deficient to a degree that resulted in loss or harm.

- NZ Herald

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