Wednesday, December 16, 2020


The hard copy DomPost leads front page with headline:

Abuse in state care 'astounding'

 "As many as 655,000 children went through different care institutions between 1950 and last year and up to 39 per cent of them could have been abused..."

Not included in the lead story was that 1,332 people actually came forward to the royal commission (it appears later in the paper almost as an afterthought).

What interested me was this:

Andrew Sporle, who teaches statistics and research design at Auckland University, says the report risks giving credence to numbers that are far from established.

“If you say these are the results of research they get some sort of veracity that isn’t justified by the source of the data or what is done with it,” he says.

“The problem with that is, once it comes out with somebody’s name on it, then it becomes almost fact because people won’t look at the criticisms, they won’t look at the peer review. It will come out as fact because it’s got the royal commission’s name on it.”

Sporle points out that the Australian royal commission into sexual abuse refused to produce a report on the numbers because the data wasn’t strong enough. He believes the royal commission here should have taken a similar stand.

“That should be the statement – sorry, the data is crap,” he says.

“Their methods don’t take into account the completely different age profiles between Māori and non-Māori, which means there are completely different population dynamics over the last 30 years. Which means they’re massively underestimating the impact of this on Māori society.

“If one of my stage 3 students had done that, I would have failed them. Seriously, it is that bad.”


Anonymous said...

I share your concern both about the 655,000 number in care, and about the claim that about 250,000 have been abused while in care.

I am taking this as the total number over the period 1950 to 2019.

I have tried to do a sense check on the numbers and where I got to is:
(a) Between 1950 and 2019 just over 4.05 million children were born in NZ. Some will have died and some emigrated, and of course a few immigrated, but if we take that as an approximation of the total "kids at risk of being put into care" then they are claiming about 16% - or over one in every six children was in state care. That just does not seem plausible
(b) The New Zealand official yearbook (OYB) records the number of children in "welfare institutions e.g. children's homes" in the 1976 and 1981 censuses. (Unfortunately these are the only two years it is in the OYB). The number was 12,117 in 1976 and 13,743 in 1981. If we assume that the number averaged 13,000 in every year between 1950 and 2019 then every child who entered state care was there for a maximum of 1.3 years and so abused in that time. If someone took the time to look at the original census books then probably most of the period would be covered by this source. (Note: these are all children's home not just state ones.)
(c) However, this is almost certainly an overestimate. The OYB also records more frequently the number of children under the Director-General of Social Welfare, and this number is much smaller (between 6 and 8 thousand in the 1950s; 11-15 thousand in the 1960s; c15 thousand in the 1970s; 12,000 in the 1980s which accords with the numbers under (b) and below 5 thousand in the 1990s). If we use these numbers then we get about 500,000 in care over the whole period, which is only 75% of their guesstimate.
(d) That would also imply that 50% of all the children were abused. I suppose it depends on the definition of abuse, but I was assuming they meant 'was not treated in the way that good, loving parents of the time treated their children". In particular, the fact that most children had corporal punishment in the 1950s to 70s period would not count as abuse. Neither would being grounded or being yelled at by harassed parents, or being made to do normal activities by like make your bed or do your homework. I must seem if that is the criteria, it is difficult to believe that 50% of children were abused.

Anonymous said...

An additional factoid from my earlier analysis:
If there were 250,000 kids abused while in care out of the 4.05 million, that implies that one in every 16 adults born in NZ was abused while in care - and that one in eight experienced care while a child.

I personally do not think either of those statistics feel plausible. But I would be interested in other people's views.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

I had a quick look at the 1946 Yearbook this morning and thought that the number of children in orphanages etc wouldn't approximate "100,000 children removed from their families in the post-war period."
Good work Anon.
There are so many difficulties, not least changing definitions of abuse, and care circumstances.
'In state care' or 'under the Director-General of Social Welfare' doesn't necessarily mean the child is institutionalised or in foster care. Today it can mean the child is officially under guardianship of the state but has been returned to wider whanau care. Before the mid-sixties the birth of any illegitimate child provoked inquiry by social workers. Adopted children - or those who remained with their birth mothers - may have remained under the care of the Director General but I'd have to check.
I wouldn't seek to downplay the experiences of those who have come before the commission (reported on tonight's Three News as 1,900) but I am very suspicious about the ensuing data.
Framed by today's definitions, all boomers were probably abused kids. That's an offensive idea to me. And would be to my beloved parents in their late eighties.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

The problem you also identify is the annual numbers over the 69 year period would have to be treated as additive to arrive at such large totals whereas in each distinct year many of the statistics would represent individuals from previous years.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the numbers I quoted above were additive i.e. they assume that every child only was counted once. If children on average would stay for more than a year, then the proportion of the births that ended up in care would go up.

So if the average stay was say two years, then one in every 3 children was in state care - so we would regularly come across that amongst our friends and relations - and one in every 6 would have been abused.

On the other hand if children only stayed 6 months it would be one in 12 and one in 6 respectively.

I have no way of telling.

The OYB give the distribution of those children placed by the court in the care of the Director General, and about 80% of them are in private homes, including wider family.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

No. The longer children stay in care the lower the cumulative numbers go.

Anonymous said...

A to Js
1950 E-04


"Registered Children's Homes

At 31 March 1950, there were seventy-four children's homes are conducted by private organizations and registered under the provisions of the Child Welfare Amendment Act, 1927. In these homes, which are subject to inspection by officers of the Division, the number of children in residence according to returns received, was 2,490 children in residence, as against 2,520 the previous year."

In 1948 it was 2,418.

Unfortunately the AtoJs put online stop in 1950.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

... as a percentage of the relevant population. Some children will be in state care for all of their first 18 years and so appear in those stats every year. But they can't be counted 18 times to arrive at total individuals in state care.

Anonymous said...

From what I can find for the censuses, the number of inmates living in the category described were:

1950 2,409 Registered Children's homes

1976 12,117 "welfare institutions e.g. children's homes etc"

1981 13,743 "welfare institutions e.g. children's homes etc"

1996 2,802 Welfare Institution (Church Hostel, Orphanage, Night Shelter, IHC House, Drug Recovery Centre)

2001 201 "Welfare Institution (excluding Night Shelters)"

2013 156 under 19 year olds in residential and community care facilities
plus 1512 under 19 year olds in "other" which includes welfare institution, religious institution, prison or penal institution or night shelter.
Total for 2013: 1668

A couple of points
1. Except for the final year, I am not sure whether the other years would include penal institutions.
2. I think that the 1976 and 1981 numbers include children in foster homes. My logic for this is that the numbers are close to those that are listed as "under the supervision of the Superintendent of Child Welfare" and well above the roughly 4,000 children labelled as "under the guardianship of the Superintendent".

While I am finding this somewhat fascinating, I will now leave it to others to go further

Mark Wahlberg said...

Lindsay all the numbers aside, what it says is there are more than a few evil sociopathic / psychopathic human beings in positions of ultimate authority satisfying their deviant lusts and getting paid for it.

Over the years I have had the misfortune to meet more than a few who look and behave like any responsible member of society until whatever impulse sets them off, sets them off. Then look out people.......