A woman who was adopted at birth into years of abuse has shared her story in the hope that no children will ever have the childhood she did.
During the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care hearing, Dallas Pickering told of the physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect she experienced, and how nobody had ever been held to account.
Pickering was put into a "white, middle-class Pākehā" family after her 16-year-old Pākehā mother gave birth, in a closed stranger adoption.
Her father, recorded as having "brown eyes" and a "light olive complexion", never knew of her existence.
It was not until she met him at age 22 that she discovered he was Māori.
Almost from the beginning there were concerns about her welfare in her new adoptive family.
There were notes of concern from Plunket, doctors, her kindergarten, neighbours, and family friends, but no actions were taken until she was four.
She was brought into hospital where a doctor reported she had been "insidiously neglected".
She was malnourished, had broken bones. She was nearly 5 years old, yet weighed the same as a 12-month-old baby.
It turned out the references the family provided were from people who only knew the family six months.
A psychologist recommended she not be returned to the family, but nobody listened.
Within three months her school complained to social welfare.
They reported bruises on her, stick marks on her back. Her family did not allow her to wear shoes. She was unable to go on school trips, unlike he adopted brother.
She was placed in social welfare custody for 18 months, but again she was returned.
The maltreatment continued. She was not allowed to eat with the family, and was often isolated from them.
"Sometimes my food was thrown out to me on the lawn. If I wasn't fast enough the dogs would get it."
Sometimes neighbours slipped her food under the fence, or she resorted to stealing to survive. She drank water from the garden hose.
She was hit with a jug cord, beaten with a broom, burnt with the iron.
"I had bruises and sores. I became so fearful I started bedwetting. One time after I wet the bed, my adoptive parents burnt all my things."
When she was nine a family member sexually abused her. When she spoke out about it she was beaten.
Around this time a neighbour laid another complaint with social welfare, and she was placed in a foster home. Within days of arriving she was sexaully abused by an older boy.
"Because of what happened in my adopted home I thought it was normal."
She reported that abuse, and the previous abuse in her adopted home. This was recorded by social welfare, but within nine months she was back with her adopted family.
"I did not have anybody I could talk to. Nobody ever asked me how I was."
From there she ended up moving from foster home to foster home.
Whenever she played up she was called a "troubled child" with a "chip on her shoulder".
"Wouldn't you, have a chip on your shoulder?" she said to the commissioners.
One of those foster homes turned out to be loving and supportive, but due to Pickering's behaviour the mother asked for a break. When the family was ready to have her back, social welfare refused.
Instead of offering to support Pickering and the family, she was shifted on to a new family.
"I felt such guilt and shame. I felt like nobody's child."
She then moved into a family home, where the caregiver "ruled by fear and violence".
There was no supervision. Drugs, alcohol, and sexual abuse were rife.
Pickering told of being raped one New Year's Day by the caregiver's brother.
"I couldn't tell my caregiver, I was too scared. It was supposed to be a place of safety, but it was the complete opposite."
Pickering recounted further abuse she suffered up until she was able to transition out of care at 16.
She had her own children, but struggled raising them due to her own experiences.
Around the age of 20 her birth parents re-entered her life. While she and her mother struggled around the "shame and guilt", she managed to develop a good relationship with her dad.
"I only found out that I was Māori when I met my Dad. But all my life I had felt that I was Māori."
The inquiry also heard form Dr Anne Else, who spoke about her research into closed stranger adoptions from 1955 to 1985, and how "mixed race" or Māori children often had difficulties finding appropiate homes, and ended up in more marginal families.
She referenced the work of Dr Maria Haenga-Collins, whose research showed the majority of Māori babies adopted between 1955 and 1985 ended up in Pākehā families.
Authorities often made the decision Māori families and grandparents were too poor or too old, and gave preference to Pākehā families.
Those administering the system measured the "Māoriness" of babies, based on skin colour, but did not record any whakapapa information - such as with Pickering.
Consequently Māori children were completely cut off from their whakapapa and heritage, with "drastic consequences".
Pickering later found her passion in social work, and has worked in the field for the past 20 years.
She took part in the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, and filed a civil claim over the abuse she suffered in state care.
But she was told none of the caregivers who had abused her would be held to account.
"I still feel there is no real justice or closure for me."
She wondered if the fact her adoptive family was Pākehā, and not Māori, was the reason she kept being returned.
Pickering said what happened to her still occurred today.
There needed to be better caregiver support and training, more focus on the needs of the child rather than their behaviour, and better understanding of intergenerational trauma.
"You can take the child out of the trauma, but it takes generations to take the trauma out of the child."
SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on:
• Text 4334 and they will respond
• Email email@example.com
• Visit https://safetotalk.nz/contact-us/ for an online chat
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.
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