Woman in and out of state care tells Royal Commission that social workers turned a blind eye to abuse

Warning: This article contains detail that some readers may find distressing. 

A woman who was in and out of state care says social workers turned a blind eye to repeated abuse.

Today was the first day of a Royal Commission hearing into abuse within the foster care system. 

It began with a karakia and a moment of peace for survivors of abuse, marking the opening of the 12th hearing of the Royal Commission. 

"It focuses on the experiences of people who as children and as young persons were placed by the state into foster care," said chair Coral Shaw. 

The people giving evidence were in the care of the state from 1950 to 1999 - with hopes this hearing will change a system that is broken. 

"They will show failures of a care system that was embedded within a fractured, colonising, eurocentric, racist, political and economic framework," lead counsel assisting Allan Cooke said. 

Elison Mae said she blocked out the worst moments of her childhood to survive it. At home, she was abused, physically, sexually and mentally.

"By the time I was eight or nine I knew I was nothing, and that my whole purpose was for people to do exactly what they wanted to do." 

At three years old Mae was first placed into the foster care system in 1957 and remained in the care of the state for 17 years. 

But during that time she was repeatedly put back in the care of her abusive mother, and in the company of other abusers. 

"When I look at my file, I think, what did you need to actually do something," Mae told the court. 

She said the records show a lack of intervention was down to a cost-saving exercise. 

"It was more beneficial that these children go back to the parent where they wouldn't be a financial cost to the department." 

Mae described a childhood of desperation - so hungry she would scan footpaths and gutters for discarded food or coins.

She suffered beatings she didn't think she would survive and was left unattended around paedophiles. 

Mae was just six years old when she was first sexually abused - she said social workers were aware and they did nothing.

"These survivors were never heard, seen or believed when they were in the foster care setting, and we need to give them that acknowledgement of what they went through," counsel assist Aroha Fletcher said. 

Today finally acknowledging that those tasked with looking after Aoteaoa's most vulnerable children repeatedly turned a blind eye in their most desperate moments of need.