Aotearoa New Zealand’s Royal Commission on Abuse in Care and Making our Disability History Visible

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Hilary Stace


Aotearoa New Zealand’s Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care is currently inquiring into the historic abuse of those in state and faith-based care and uncovering stories of violence, neglect and exclusion. Disabled people are a population group that has been significantly affected by historic abuse. For much of the twentieth century, eugenics-based public policy framed disability as something to be feared and bred out of the population, as it threatened the 'fitness' of the 'white race'. Consequently, thousands of disabled children, young people and adults were removed from families and communities and spent their lives in institutions, residential special schools or foster homes. Some children with learning disability or other neurodiverse conditions were locked up in youth justice boys' and girls' homes after minor incidents such as school truancy. Physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, medical, financial, cultural and spiritual abuse and neglect, as well as poor record keeping, were widespread in these institutions. To understand this history, and to honour those who survived and remember those who did not, the commission and the people of Aotearoa New Zealand need to hear these stories. This article provides some history and context for the commission, describes a research project that gathered stories of hard-to-reach disabled survivors and advocates for collecting, archiving and making Aotearoa New Zealand's disability history visible.

Article Details

Public History in Aotearoa New Zealand
Author Biography

Hilary Stace

Hilary Stace worked at the Alexander Turnbull Library and Dictionary of New Zealand Biography before returning to university to complete a PhD on autism. One of many who advocated for the current Royal Commission, she has lobbied for a disability archive to gather stories of abuse, disability activism and rights victories.