The Government is unmoved on its position to not hold an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care following a petition and emotional rally on Parliament's steps this afternoon.

A group of victims joined with the Human Rights Commission to deliver the 5300-signature petition at the Beehive today, urging the Government to reverse its position on a full public apology and an independent inquiry.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett acknowledged the trauma endured by victims, and said many of them had received personal apologies from Social Development Minister Anne Tolley. A personal apology was more valuable that a general one, she said.

Compensation had also been offered to some wards of the state, and eligibility had been extended to those who simply attended some of the institutions where abuse occurred.

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"It's just horrific, what some people have gone through," she told reporters at Parliament.

"It's actually followed them through their whole lives. So we certainly acknowledge that. We're doing everything we can to give them the support that they need now."

Earlier in the day, victim after victim told their stories on Parliament's front steps, talking about the rape, violent abuse and neglect they experienced in state care.

One of them, Eugene Ryder, said he was not heartened by the large turnout of victims at the rally.

"I feel sad that we've had to come to the steps of Parliament to get something right.

"It's sad that the Government of the day don't look at righting some of the wrongs that were done in the past."

Anne Helm, who was on a panel of the Confidential Forum for abuse survivors, said the final report from the exercise had been presented to Parliament in 2007.

"And the 500 people who came and talked to us, the majority wanted an apology.

"This was the first documentation of the horror. Ten years later I am standing here with so many others ... who have suffered abuse. And they are still not listening. What does it take?"

Another victim, Tony Jarvis, said he was abused at the adult psychiatric hospital Cherry Farm in Dunedin after he was sent there as a nine year-old.

"I was the plaything of the older men," he said.

Jarvis, from Alexandra, said he went to Dipton Primary School with Bill English, now Prime Minister.

"He knows on a personal level my abuse and my past. I challenged him to come out here.

Tony Jarvis, from Alexandra, speaks during the state abuse survivors rally and petition handover at Parliament today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tony Jarvis, from Alexandra, speaks during the state abuse survivors rally and petition handover at Parliament today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"I challenge them to come out and have this inquiry for all of us and help break the chains that bind this little boy to his abuse today as a grown man."

Bennett was later challenged on Government's position in the House by Labour's deputy leader Jacinda Ardern.

During the exchange, Bennett conceded that there had been systemic abuse in state care.

Ardern said that appeared to be a change of position, because Tolley had previously said there was no evidence it was a systemic problem.

"We share the view of the Human Rights Commission that there are still lessons to be learnt from the past and that such an inquiry could form the basis of best practice policies for children living in state care," she said.

The Green Party and the Maori Party also support an inquiry.

How much value do you place on a child?

Between the 1950s and 1990s more than 100,000 children and vulnerable adults were taken from their families and placed in either children's homes or mental health institutions.

While there, some suffered sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. It's currently impossible to estimate the extent of the abuse, because it has never been subject to a full public investigation.

Some survivors agreed to speak out anonymously.

One said they still felt shame about what happened to them, and that the Government hadn't tried to put things right.

"Bill English, you say that you don't want the cost of a public inquiry like it cost Australia," they said.

"However you and the National Government spend money on a flag change at a cost of $26 million, a display in Dubai cost $53m, a replacement ship Endeavour cost $500m, a fleet of cars cost $6m.

"I could go on. How much value do you place on a child?

"You have to address the past before you have a hope to change the future."

Another spoke of the violence he'd suffered from his first day in state care, and the shadow it had cast over the rest of his life.

"Many times violence was meted out to me, a couple of times sexual violence were attempted.

"Out of pure fear and fighting back I became a survivor, with a very hardened personality [believing] violence is normal, along with [a] feeling of hate for authority figures who sometimes stood and watched.

"I still have bad dreams about some of the abuse done to me in the boys' homes."

The cause has won support from many corners of New Zealand.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson said it was about justice for all New Zealanders.

"We need to know our Government cares about children and people with disabilities and will do everything in its power to investigate abuse and to put things right."

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy said although the current Government may not have been in power when the abuse took place, it could be the Government that made sure it never happened again.

Indigenous Rights Commissioner Karen Johansen said the politicians needed to come outside Parliament and meet the survivors in person.

"A lot of decision-makers have never met a survivor of state abuse: this is an opportunity for them to do so.

"This is about justice and uplifting mana."