The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care: What you need to know

The final report from the long-running Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry will be handed to Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro on 26 June, five-and-a-half years after its terms of reference were announced, and decades after survivors first advocated for redress.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s biggest and costliest inquiry to date, with nearly $170 million in funding so far, its recommendations were delivered to Internal Affairs Minister Brooke van Velden at the end of March.

The report and recommendations will be made public after the government tables the report in Parliament. Most likely late-July.

Established in 2018 to investigate abuse and neglect of children, young people, and adults in state and faith-based care from 1950 to 1999, it has also heard from people who were abused since then. At least 250,000 are estimated to have been affected.

Compared to similar inquiries around the world, New Zealand’s inquiry has the widest scope, chairperson Judge Coral Shaw said.

Its deadline has been extended three times.

Shaw described the abuse as “a national disgrace”.

“The whole country must pay attention when our final report is released and take responsibility to ensure that it never happens again.”

In the 1990s, when many children abused were adults, the number of claims against the Crown grew.

The commission acknowledged early on there was clear evidence Māori have been over-represented in state and faith-based care, and as victims of abuse in care. Pacific people and disabled people were also over-represented.

6 July 2017

About 200 people with experience of abuse in care gathered at Parliament while Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy delivered a petition, and an open letter, with a total of 15,000 signatures, demanding an inquiry and a public apology. Nine survivors also spoke. The documents were received by then-Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Māori Party co-leader Maramax Fox, respectively.

There had already been calls for an inquiry by many people and organisations: survivors, community leaders, political parties (all except National), the Human Rights Commission, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Women’s Welfare League, as well as the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Several other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, had recently launched or completed inquiries into similar matters.

February 2018

Following a change in government in 2017, in February the following year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

The government asked Sir Anand Satyanand as chairperson to gather feedback on the inquiry’s draft terms of reference.


After more than 400 submissions on the draft, the final terms of reference were released. (The terms of reference were subsequently amended in 2021 and 2023.)

In November, Ardern said Cabinet had agreed to expand the inquiry’s remit to investigate abuse in church-run as well as state institutions.


The Royal Commission’s Survivor Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) was set up to represent survivors and provide advice.

The first private sessions were held in May.

Several controversies were aired in media reports, involving the appointment of a gang member to a key role, survivors being used for trial or pilot interviews, claims Sir Anand fell asleep while a survivor told their story, and accusations commissioners shut down questions on potential conflicts of interest.


In August, Sir Anand resigned from his role as chairman of the inquiry. He was replaced by Shaw, a former district court judge.

January 2020

Shaw met with Māori King Tūheitia Paki at Tūrangawaewae.

In subsequent months, a series of fono for Pacific peoples took place around the country.


In September, the commission marked 500 private sessions, and released its annual report to June 2020.

In December, an interim report summarised the inquiry’s work to date. The report said the estimate that a quarter of a million young people were abused may be conservative. Most of those abused came from the most disadvantaged or marginalised segments of the community, particularly from whānau Māori and Pacific families, disabled people, and women and girls.


There were continued public hearings for faith-based redress, and state-run children’s homes.

A five-month extension was given, with the final report expected back June 2023.

June 2021

Survivors of the child and adolescent unit at Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital, where patients in the 1970s experienced torture and neglect, particularly at the hands of its consultant psychiatrist, Dr Selwyn Leeks, gave evidence in a public hearing.

December 2021

An interim report on redress made 95 recommendations calling for urgent action to restore mana to survivors and lay out a clear path to help put right the deep harm done to them.

The report found survivors’ requests for redress were often rejected or their abuse downplayed, disbelieved, or dismissed.

Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had listened and acknowledged there have been failings in the Crown’s approach to providing redress.

The Labour government intended to create a new, independent redress system. A proposal currently sits with the coalition government, but survivors have been told they must wait until the commission’s final report is considered before anything happens.


Public hearings continued, focused on the lived experiences of survivors in foster care and those with disabilities placed in psychiatric institutions.

A research report was released on the links between state care and incarceration. It found that between 1950 and 1999, one third of children placed in state care ended up serving a prison sentence.

Another research report, providing insight into those with learning disabilities and neurodiversity, in state and faith-based care between 1950-1999, was published.

And the inquiry into the Lake Alice unit was presented to Parliament on 15 December.

March 2023

The closing date for survivor registrations was 21 March 2023. More than 4000 had registered.

April 2023

The commission’s original deadline of 30 June 2023, was extended to 28 March 2024.

Shaw said: “The scale of abuse is beyond what anyone had every imagined at the start of this inquiry.”

August 2023

The inquiry into the Order of the Brothers of St John of God at Marylands School and Hebron Trust was published.

The school and related community centre for boys with learning disabilities in Christchurch was described as “hell on earth”.

March 2024

Cabinet agreed to a final, short extension, from 28 March to 26 June 2024.

What’s next?

The abuse continues today, according to human rights lawyer Sonja Cooper, who has been working for more than 30 years with state care victims. She told TVNZ’s Q+A “it’s still very much something that’s happening now and sadly that will continue into the future”.

An official apology and an independent redress scheme are expected as part of the Crown response.

Research estimated the average lifetime cost for an individual abused in care was about $860,000.

But monetary restitution was just one aspect, Keith Wiffin, a SAGE member, said. Redress needed to involve compensation as well as rehabilitation. And transformation of a system that continued to allow abuse.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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