This study, by Ihi Research, was commissioned by the Crown Response primarily to assist the Royal Commission’s Māori investigation. The themes do not necessarily represent the views of the wider Crown, or of individual government agencies.

This research is believed to be the most comprehensive ever done on Māori historical experience of State care. It draws together a vast range of data from State organisations and interviewing people closely involved in the care system during 1950-99.

The research was formally presented to the Royal Commission at a whakatau on 26 October 2021.

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You can also download the study in chapters for document readers.

Research summary


  • The Crown Response to the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry commissioned Ihi Research Social Change & Innovation (Ihi) to consider the causes and impacts of Māori over-representation in State care and efforts to address it.
  • The history of Māori involvement in State care is not well understood. Historical records, data and perspectives on Māori in State care are patchy and spread across multiple agencies and locations.
  • The research is the most comprehensive work ever done to understand what sits behind Māori over-representation in the State care system over time.


  • The research approach was from a Māori-centred perspective. It considered what happened in State care between 1950-99 that impacted on Māori.
  • The research drew on hundreds of documents in Archives New Zealand and other repositories. There were 26 interviews, mainly with Māori and non-Māori current and former public servants. Survivor experiences were gathered from existing literature and research, to avoid any possible conflict with the Royal Commission’s investigation.

Data quality

  • Poor data on Māori was a major limitation for the researchers. Data was often fragmented, inconsistent and of bad quality. It was found that, before 1980, few institutions recorded ethnicity at all, or they mis-identified ethnicity when they did.
  • The report says the poor data on Māori shows that the State tended to collect information on what it deemed to be important, such as crime and punishment, or for administrative purposes, rather than in the interests of accountability. It viewed its data collection through a monocultural and racist lens.

Impact of colonisation

  • Whānau suffered trauma and lost connection under colonisation and a racist, deficit-focused State care system.
  • The origins of Māori over-representation in State care lie in the multiple changes to traditional whānau ways of living and child-rearing. These included urban migration, split whānau and hapū ties, loss of whenua and lost access to traditional life-sustaining resources.
  • Racism positioned whānau practices as inherently inferior, fuelling the scrutiny that started the over-representation of Māori within State care institutions.
  • These factors created ripe conditions for social problems, including domestic violence.

Evidence of over-representation

  • Available data, while limited, showed clear evidence of Māori over-representation in State care, at up to ten times the rate of non- Māori.
  • For example, data from the 1980s and 90s shows substantial Māori over-representation in “substitute” (non- whānau) care, significantly higher criminal offending rates among Māori youth, and higher Māori youth admission rates to psychiatric institutions.
  • A 1998 birth cohort study showed that by the age of 18, tamariki were 3.5 times more likely to experience out-of-home placement than European children.
  • From 1964 to 1974, the total increase in rates of court appearance by Māori (150% increase among boys, and 143% among girls) was twice that of non-Māori.
  • Māori babies were more often adopted by less desirable applicants.
  • Māori children were more likely to be placed in residential care or conventional foster care, and less likely to receive intensive support.
  • Welfare notifications and youth justice were significant pipelines into care for Māori, despite amendments to legislation and systems.
  • The failure of State care to provide quality education for tamariki Māori led to widespread educational under-achievement, compromising their life trajectories.
  • Tamariki admitted to State care were lost to their wider communities, often returning as damaged and traumatised adults alienated from their culture.

Institutional racism

  • Institutional racism within agencies has contributed to the over-representation of Māori in State care.
  • The voices of tamariki Māori rarely featured in decision making, programmes and policies relating to their care within the State care system.
  • Residential institutions, special schools and psychiatric residences lacked culturally appropriate programmes for Māori, and Māori perspectives were absent from institutional assessments.
  • Differential treatment of pēpi, tamariki and whānau Māori across the system can be seen in racially-based adoption protocols.
  • The State consistently failed to incorporate Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the care system. Te Tiriti recognition has only recently been achieved through Māori activism.

Failed remedies

  • Since the 1980s, there have been moves to address Māori over-representation, with a lot of input from Māori, but initial momentum was often lost or undermined.
  • The 1988 Puao-te-Ata-Tū report heralded hope, as it was the first formal recognition of the institutionally racist, hierarchical nature of the Department of Social Welfare.
  • It led to a shift from residential institutions towards the Mātua Whāngai programme of community-based alternatives to State care. The 1989 Children, Young Persons and their Families Act introduced a more culturally appropriate, accessible and whānau-based approach to care, including more front-line Māori workers.
  • But implementation of Puao-te-Ata-Tū faltered, becoming seen as tokenistic. Mātua Whangai was disestablished in 1992, the use of family group conferences was inconsistent and under-resourced, and constant systemic restructuring was focused on managerial objectives aimed at reducing State spending.

Persistent challenges

  • Decades of reviews, reports and legislation on child welfare services have failed to produce a system that answers the needs of whānau and tamariki. The same mistakes seem to be repeated generation after generation.
  • Advocacy has fuelled improvements such as deinstitutionalisation and greater recognition of the rights of Māori children and whānau, but Māori/iwi organisations have been frustrated in their attempts to exercise rangatiratanga in a system where power continue to be controlled by the State.
  • There continues to be a lack of Māori staff or capability to support tamariki in State care. Māori staff face unrealistic expectations, burnout and high turnover, and there is evidence of under-provision of training. Māori staff can be perceived by their communities as monitors for the State.

Download study as chapters

For document readers, the full research report is also available in chapters:

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 00 Title Preface Executive summary [DOCX, 74 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 01 Whakapapa [DOCX, 104 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 02 Māori over-representation in State care [DOCX, 5.2 MB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 03 Differential treatment [DOCX, 90 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 04 The impact of the system on Māori [DOCX, 416 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 05 Te Tiriti o Waitangi [DOCX, 78 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 06 Puao te Ata Tū [DOCX, 107 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 07 Māori staff working in State Care [DOCX, 449 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 08 Resistance response and critical junctures of change [DOCX, 565 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 09 Methodology [DOCX, 156 KB]

Hāhā-uri hāhā-tea Part 10 Appendices [DOCX, 73 KB]

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