‘Prison without bars’: Care abuse hearing says children with disabilities have no freedom of choice


People with disabilities, their whānau and advocates share stories of historic abuse in Abuse in Care – Royal Commission into Institutional Care for the Disabled, Deaf and Mental Health. The hearing runs from July 11 to July 20.

Content Disclaimer: This story contains tales of abuse that some readers may find distressing.

Matthew Whiting spent eight of his formative years at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch where he was sexually abused, put in solitary confinement and had food stuffed down his throat.

Whiting, who has cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia and speech impairment, told the abuse of care hearing on Tuesday that Burwood Hospital was a prison without bars.

He lived there from age 13 to 21 because his parents thought it was the best place for him, but he became institutionalized, had no choice in his daily life, and was forced to hide in a elevator to have a personal space.

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One day, when Whiting refused to eat, a nurse pinched his nose and shoved the food down his throat.

“I lived day in and day out in a system of power and control… When you can’t move, you have no choice. The way the staff wanted it done, that’s how it was done. There is a huge power imbalance,” he said.

Matthew Whiting, who made a statement to the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care Settings.


Matthew Whiting, who made a statement to the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care Settings.

When Whiting was 15, he was touched and kissed by a nurse with no choice what was going on, he said. It was only later that he realized as an adult how she had abused and taken advantage of him.

When he was a child, a specialist mistakenly believed he had a learning disability, but a child psychologist later confirmed he had above-average intelligence.

Her adoptive home was “significantly dysfunctional” with a lot of verbal abuse. He moved into family homes when he was 7 years old, which upset him and led him to believe that his impairments were the root of the family’s difficulties.

He was later transferred to Pukeora Hospital where some staff members abused their power and control over the residents. “No one asked me what I wanted…I was terrified. I felt like I was being controlled all the time… It was like sending someone to prison at 11,” he said.

He lived in a dormitory and was threatened by two men he saw engaging in a sexual act, leaving him feeling vulnerable and helpless.

Whiting has been placed in isolation by staff at both Pukeora and Burwood.

He told the audience about the discrimination he still faces every day as a disabled person, from discriminatory questions during job interviews to ignoring waiters.

“I’m treated like I can’t do it, like I can’t talk. I’m down. Every day my sense of myself is affected.

Whiting wanted societal and systemic changes to address the power imbalance in the disability sector which is significantly underfunded.

For the past 21 years, he has worked as the Regional Disability Leadership Coordinator and Service Manager for CCS Disability Action.

Lusi Faiva, a Samoan dancer with cerebral palsy who won the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Award: Artistic Achievement Award.

Abigail Dougherty

Lusi Faiva, a Samoan dancer with cerebral palsy who won the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Award: Artistic Achievement Award.

Another witness, Lusi Faiva, told the Royal Commission that when he was two years old, after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a doctor told his mother to send him to an institution, where the it was assumed that she had an intellectual disability.

She was sent to the Kimberly Center in Levin until the age of seven, where she suffered emotional, medical and cultural neglect.

“I am a proud Samoan woman. I am an artist, a dancer and a passionate seeker of freedom,” she said.

She explained to the audience how institutions dehumanize people with disabilities and that the care provided by disability support services still operates today fundamentally within a similar system with a lack of respect for freedom. of choice.

Faiva said there were no activities for children in Kimberley who felt “dark and cold”.

“The nurses didn’t take good care of me. The only times the nurses came into the ward was to give us our children’s medication and then they left. One time I fell and broke my ankle because no one was watching me… The care involved medication, diapering, showering and other very clinical procedures,” she said.

The Chairman of the Royal Commission into Care Abuse, Justice Coral Shaw.


The Chairman of the Royal Commission into Care Abuse, Justice Coral Shaw.

“Being taken care of was like a slap in the face. There was no freedom of choice in access to care. I was lost in healing. There was no acceptance, belief or trust from others that I needed freedom.

While she now lived independently, support services still did not have enough resources to provide care and support when she needed it urgently and to secure funding for the technology that enabled her to communicate n was not easy.

“I’ve been left without care and without support for a long time. This reality is a reflection of the system’s lack of respect for freedom and even for basic human needs,” she said.

Shannon, an autistic man from Dunedin, has testified he was hurt when a foster family “got rough” with him. He moved to another family where his adoptive sister Leeann Barnett cared for him and helped him communicate.

He then moved into a nursing home aged 15, where he was barred from seeing Barnett and not allowed to use the facilitated communication technology he had used since he was 9. . Instead, he was given charts with only “yes” and “no.” ‘ on them.

He told the commissioners he felt like taping their mouths, so they could see what it was like to have no voice.

Leeann Barnett has testified to the mistreatment of her two brothers while in care.

Hamish McNeilly / Stuff

Leeann Barnett has testified to the mistreatment of her two brothers while in care.

“I had employees yelling at me and I was put on hard drugs which made me feel dumb and stupid. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to take these drugs. Some staff hurt me. They would swear at me and call me a moron.

He then moved in with Barnett, then into his own house. He said there was no funding for specialized computer equipment to allow him to start writing again after studying creative writing at Massey University.

He called on the government to stop making rules suitable for ableist thinking and let people with disabilities design their own lives.

“Everyone has the right to be different. Living with autism is great and I wouldn’t change a thing. We’re just people who see the world through a different lens. This objective is not false, and we are not less so.

Barnett told the commissioners

about the death of his other brother Amos while being treated at Wakari Hospital in 2001.

Amos suffered from severe autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome and paranoid schizophrenia and Barnett’s parents had expressed concerns about his placement in an unlocked room.

He disappeared from the hospital and a coroner’s inquest later learned that the hospital failed to observe Amos every ten minutes as required. The coroner’s report says he was presumed drowned and only his jawbone was found 15 months after his death.


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