An inquiry into abuse in care wants to hear from people who can share information about the child and adolescent unit at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital near Marton.
As part of its broader investigation into historic abuse and neglect in psychiatric care, the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry has announced the scope of its investigation into abuse and neglect at the unit in the 1970s.
Lake Alice investigation team lead Andrew Molloy said it is the first comprehensive investigation into what happened to children and young adults at the unit, and why.
It follows the December 2019 finding of the UN's Committee against Torture, which upheld a complaint by former Lake Alice patient Paul Zentveld.
"We are interested in any information relating to the admission of children and adolescents, the care of patients while there, the conditions in the hospital for staff and patients, and the treatments administered, including aversion therapy, electro-convulsive therapy or medication," Molloy said.
Previous investigations into Lake Alice include legal action in which the Crown reached a settlement in 2001 with 95 people who had been patients in the child and adolescent unit.
However, Molloy told the Chronicle the previous investigations "tended to focus on one or two particular complaints".
"It wasn't aimed at looking at who was there, what happened, why it happened and what might we do differently in the future if we're not already doing it.
"[The investigation] is to try to get some overarching sense of what was this place, why did it exist, what was the context of the times and what were the standards of care that should have been expected and what was actually delivered."
Molloy said it was "an enormous task".
"There were probably 200-odd kids went through that settlement litigation process that existed in the '90s but there must have been a lot more than that. We think there must have been 300 to 400 kids in total, there may even be more.
"That's one task – to identify who was there, why they were there, how many there were then draw forward anyone who wants to engage with us. There'll be some people who've already been through that settlement process and we may get some different people who've been sitting on it for years and years."
Molloy said although there would be a public hearing sometime in 2021, there were other ways people could give information.
"We would encourage anyone with anything to tell us about their story to come to us. We would really like to get a sense of the place and the times and the experience. And the primary people who can tell us about that are the people that were either required to be there, or who were working there, but there'll also be family members, there'll be some folklore around this I suspect."
Information could include diary entries, letters, photographs or film taken of the unit, its staff or patients and medical documents. People could give details in writing or request a private session with a commissioner or to give evidence at the public hearing.
"It's as little or as much as they want to share. The important thing is that anything they provide us will go into the pot and broadens our understanding so we're very keen for people to engage and hopefully it will be in a way that they can be comfortable and safe in doing so."
The investigation team was sourcing archived patient records from the Ministry of Health and Molloy said nothing would be divulged publicly unless a person specifically requested it.
"No-one's account is going to be paraded, nothing identifiable will be publicly aired without very carefully thought-through consent. While we want to tell the story, we have no right to tell an individual's story.
"The more information we can get, the better a picture we can paint of what happened and try to draw some conclusions of why it happened. How did we as a society look after these people – the agencies that ought to be looking after them, did they do their job? Did we respond in the way we would like to think we would have?
"I guess there might be some catharsis in it for people who were involved. I think it will feed into the broader inquiry objectives of drawing conclusions about what happened in the past and where we might have fallen short and making sure that we don't repeat those mistakes and having that feed into how we deal with these things in the future."
People can register to provide information to the investigation team by ringing 0800 222 727 or emailing email@example.com
• The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry is investigating the abuse and neglect that happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care from 1950 and 1999. It will also consider experiences of abuse or neglect outside these dates. After completing its investigations, it will make recommendations to the Governor General on how New Zealand can better care for children, young people and vulnerable adults.
The Lake Alice child and adolescent unit operated from 1972 to 1978. Other parts of Lake Alice were gradually closed during the 1990s, with the secure facility the final part to close in 1999.