This timeline lists major institutional and legislative changes and reports across the welfare, justice, education and health sectors.





Native Land Act

Prevented Māori from adopting children in accordance with Māori custom. The Native Land Court could make orders for adoption by Māori, but only of Māori children. Also affected marriages between Māori.


Mental Defectives Act

Consolidated regulations to detain ‘mentally defective’ persons, allowing voluntary admission, licencing and basic requirements for institutions. Also enabled the transfer of ‘feeble-minded’ minors from a mental hospital to a special school.


Borstals Act

The Prevention of Crime (Borstal Institutions Establishment) Act. Offenders aged 15-21 could be detained in Borstals for one to five years for ‘reform’, which included occupational training.


Child Welfare Act

Established the Child Welfare Branch in the Department of Education and Children’s Courts. Allowed for a range of residences: receiving homes, probation homes, convalescent homes, training farms and schools. Set the age of criminal responsibility at 7 years. It also required all illegitimate births to be notified to Child Welfare Officers (which continued until 1983).


Child Welfare Branch set up

Based in the Department of Education, it had responsibility for the welfare of all children (whether in institutional care or in the care of family). The Superintendent of Child Welfare was responsible to both the Minister of Education and the Minister in Charge of Welfare.


Mental Defectives Amendment Act

Established the Mental Hospitals Department and broadened the definition of ‘mental defective’, so it applied to more people. It set up residential institutions for people with intellectual disabilities and set up a Eugenics Board (disestablished in 1932).


Native Land Act

Removed recognition of adoptions by Māori custom for things such as succession to native land where there was no will (unless the adoption had been registered pre-31 March 1910 and was still in place). Also impacted land development and title.


Health camps

The first permanent Children’s health camp was built at Otaki.


Māori Purposes Act

Marriages in accordance with Māori custom, and certain earlier adoption orders, were deemed valid for specific land purposes.


Separate schools added to health camps

A separate school was added to the Otaki Children’s Health Camp, and subsequent permanent children’s health camps were built with an associated school attached. School staff were employed and managed by the Department of Education.


Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act

Established Tribal Executive Committees, Māori Wardens and Māori Welfare Officers. The latter did not have statutory responsibilities but worked with child welfare officers from under the Child Welfare Branch of Education. The Act also removed discrimination in social security that had disadvantaged Māori.


Child Welfare Division

The Child Welfare Branch of the Department of Education was renamed the Child Welfare Division.


Mental Defectives Amendment

Made it compulsory for institutions caring for ‘mentally defective persons’ to have a medical superintendent (a qualified doctor) and for an institution with more than 100 patients to have a medical officer living in residence.


The Aitken report and the Burns report

The Consultative Committee on Intellectually Handicapped Children (Aitken Report) advocated an expansion of the residential institutional model for the ‘great majority of imbecile children’.

The Burns report advocated for small-scale facilities in communities.


Māori Affairs Act

Consolidated legislation on Māori land and set up the Department of Māori Affairs and the Board of Māori Affairs. It separated more whānau from land to which they had whakapapa links, and further limited the recognition of marriages and adoptions done in accordance with Māori custom.


The Mazengarb report

The Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents criticised films, comics, and declining standards of family and religious life. Later described as leading to a ‘moral panic’.


The Adoption Act

Codified adoption practices around a ‘nuclear’ family using a model of closed adoption. This cut across tikanga Māori, as it did not recognise the custom of whāngai. It also removed the restriction that Māori could only adopt Māori children. If an applicant was Māori, the adoption order was heard in the Māori Land Court.


National Committee on Māori Education

The Minister of Education appointed a National Committee on Māori Education (with majority Māori membership), which agreed there should be one system of State schooling for both Māori and Pākehā. The Committee was reconstituted as the National Advisory Committee on Māori Education in 1956, reporting annually to the Minister of Education.


Health Act

Affirmed the Department of Health’s administration of the Mental Defectives Act 1911.


The Hospitals Act

Established 18 District Health Offices and 29 locally elected Hospital Boards, to oversee hospitals and some other services. It also set up the Hospitals Advisory Council to advise the Minister of Health on the provision, control, and management of the Hospital Boards.

1957- 1958

The Juvenile Crime Prevention Section

Established by Police in Christchurch in 1957 and expanded to other centres in 1958. Aimed to divert young, minor, offenders away from the Courts, so long as they admitted guilt, agreed to make amends, and their parents took responsibility for their behaviour. Policewomen were targeted to staff the Section.


Superintendent of Registered Children’s Homes and Child Care Centres

Appointed by the Department of Education to oversee the inspection of children’s homes and childcare centres and provide advice. Part of a response to a public outcry over neglect in a day-care facility in 1958. The Child Welfare Division regulated the registration, licensing, and control of childcare centres, and appointed specialist officers to supervise them.


Child Care Centre Regulations

Established minimum standards for childcare centres (also in response to the 1958 neglect case). All premises caring for three or more children had to be registered with the Child Welfare Division.


The Police Offences Amendment Act

Criminalised minors’ possession or drinking of alcohol. Stricter measures were introduced for dealing with older youth offenders, including detention centres for those aged 16 to 21 years.


The Hunn Report

The Department of Māori Affairs’ report identified disadvantage and concluded that Māori were a ‘depressed ethnic minority’. The Report noted education had a major role to play in the economic and social advancement of Māori, and recommended abandoning the policy of assimilation in favour of integration.


The Māori Education Foundation Act

Set up after the Hunn report, mainly using Department of Education staff, to lift Māori education standards ‘equal to that of the Pākehā’ by encouraging Māori into secondary and tertiary education.


The Crimes Act 1961

Raised the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 10 years, and included statutory confirmation of the common law principles that parents, care providers and schools could use force to correct the behaviour of children (Section 59).


The Child Welfare Amendment Act

Amended the Child Welfare Act 1925 to allow a child or parent to request, after one year, a review of a committal or supervision order.


The Māori Welfare Act (later the Māori Community Development Act)

Updated the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945. It enabled the appointment of Honorary Welfare Officers, established the New Zealand Māori Council, and added specific functions for Māori Wardens. Tribal committees were replaced by committees representing mainly geographic areas that did not always reflect iwi areas of interest. In 1979 the Act’s title was changed to the Māori Community Development Act.


Māori Land Court adoptions ceased

All adoptions became processed by the Magistrates Court, and the separate Māori birth and death registers were combined.


Mental Health Division

The Department of Health was reorganised into six divisions, including one mental health division.


The Currie Report

Report of the Commission on Education in New Zealand reinforced the State’s provision and control of education. Advocated equality of opportunity, drew attention to the disparity in Māori education and recommended Te Reo as an optional subject at secondary level.


The Education Act

Allowed the Minister to establish ‘any special class, clinic, or service’ and outlined conditions to compulsorily enrol ‘certain children’ who might be required to attend. Children ‘suffering from a disability of the body or mind’ were not eligible to enrol in regular schools, and parents remained responsible for their education.   The Act also provided for the training of teachers for special education.


Police Youth Aid Section

Established after an overhaul of the old Juvenile Crime Prevention Section to work more closely with young people and avoid them entering the Court system.


The Guardianship Act

Defined and regulated the authority of parents as guardians of their children, their power to appoint guardians, and the powers of the Courts in relation to the custody and guardianship of children.


The Status of Children Act

Removed the legal distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children.


The Mental Health Act

Replaced the Mental Defectives Act 1911, revised the definition of mental disorder, and included ‘informal patients’ admitted to a psychiatric institution outside the Act who could leave at any time (provided they were not ‘disordered’). For the first time the Act set time limits around patients being subject to compulsory detention.


Integrated schools

The separate Māori school system administered by the Department of Education was abolished. Management of the 105 Māori primary schools and remaining Māori district high schools were transferred to education board control. Māori High schools had been closing or transferring since the mid-1950s.


Joint ‘J’ Teams

Set up to support young Māori in cities. Included Police, Child Welfare, Māori Affairs and voluntary groups (disbanded in 1980).

1971 - 1972

The Department of Social Welfare Act

Merged the Department of Social Security and the Department of Education’s Child Welfare Division to form the Department of Social Welfare (DSW), which began operating on 1 April 1972. DSW was responsible for child welfare, but residential special schools for ‘hearing handicapped, maladjusted and backward children’ remained with the Department of Education.


Mental Health Amendment Act

Transferred control of psychiatric hospitals from the Department of Health to Hospital Boards


Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit opened

The Unit operated for six years but children and young people may have been treated in Lake Alice prior to the unit being opened.


The Social Security Amendment Act

Established the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), to support sole parents (over the age of 16). The DPB was also available for people to care for an adult who otherwise would have needed to be in hospital. The DPB helped give women economic independence and may have helped some whānau Māori keep their children.


Royal Commission of Inquiry into Hospital and Related Services

Rejected the view that the majority of mentally handicapped people should be placed in institutional care from the age of five. Recommended review of psychopaedic services and that mentally handicapped people should not be in psychiatric hospitals.


Children and Young Persons Act

Replaced the Child Welfare Act 1925 and separated children (aged under 14 years) and young people (14–17 years). Only young people could be referred to the Children and Young Persons Court.

The Act also modernised the framework for Youth Aid Services, including preventative work with young people, including the use of informal warnings or sanctions as an alternative to arrest.


Treaty of Waitangi Act

Established the Waitangi Tribunal, and began to recognise Māori rights under the Treaty. Initially, its scope of was limited to contemporary grievances arising after 1975, but a 1985 amendment enabled the Tribunal to investigate claims going back to 1840.


The Disabled Persons Community Welfare Act

Provided financial and other assistance for disabled people, and support for private organisations that provide facilities for disabled people to help them stay in the community. Allowed the Department of Social Welfare to pay up to four weeks respite care for a disabled child, and a Disability Allowance of up to $8 a week, subject to an income test.


Private Schools Conditional Integration Act

Facilitated the conditional and voluntary integration of a private school into the State education system, on the basis that the school’s special character (religious or philosophical belief) would be ‘protected’ and ‘safeguarded’. 249 Catholic and 9 non-Catholic private schools had integrated by 1983.


McCombs Report (Towards Partnership)

Criticised the lack of Māori, Pacific people and women in school governance, the isolation of school boards from communities and the concentration of power in the Department of Education.


Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit closed

The Child and Adolescent Unit at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital closed.


Intensive Foster Care schemes

The Department of Social Welfare established Intensive Foster Care schemes to match more difficult children with carefully selected foster parents, who received training, advice and support.


The Family Court Act

Established the Family Court. Its jurisdiction included marriage and its dissolution, adoption, guardianship, paternity, matrimonial property and spousal and child maintenance.   (Later expanded further to include care of children and child protection and welfare)


Borstals closed

The last of the borstals was closed by the Criminal Justice Amendment (No 2) Act 1980.


Police national register of complaints

The first system to track Police complaints, and how they were dealt with. The register revealed more complaints than expected, the prominence of excessive use of force (especially at stations after arrest), prevalence of some bad practices (such as strip-searches in public), and the recurrence of some officers’ names in complaints.


Kōhanga reo

The first kōhanga reo was supported by the Department of Māori Affairs. A year later, there were 100 (currently over 460). As well as reviving Te Reo Māori, the aims included immersing children and whānau in Māori child rearing practices.


The Johnson Report

Followed a 1979 Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Auckland residences and the 1978 Auckland Committee on racism and Discrimination (ACORD) inquiry conducted by a group of social workers into residences in Auckland.

Identified significant problems with residential practice including: overcrowding, use of secure care and disrupted social work practice.


The Area Health Boards Act

Established 14 Area Health Boards to gradually replace the Hospital Boards and District Health Offices. The change was completed when the Local Government Act 1989 abolished Hospital Boards.


Police Directorate of Internal Affairs

Established to manage discipline, complaints and related appeals. New policies were introduced for dealing with complaints made in Police custody.


The Child Care Centre Regulations

Amended the 1960 minimum standards for childcare centres, required every centre to have a trained supervisor, and prohibited corporal punishment. The Childcare Accreditation Board was required to assess training courses and assist the Director-General of Education to determine the qualifications for childcare centre staff.


The Adult Adoption Information Act

Enabled adopted children and birth parents to access information about each other, but allowed birth parents to request a veto on their information so that the child may not have access to the information.


Ministerial Review of Department of Education Residential Special Schools

Examined the seven residential special schools (which served 396 children and employed 350 staff) and recommended they be consolidated, as some children’s needs could be met in their local area. The review resulted in the closure of Campbell Park School, with services consolidated at Salisbury and Hogben Schools.


Residential Care Regulations

The Children’s and Young Persons (Residential Care) Regulations represented the first time that practices for the care of children and young people in social welfare residences were set out in statute.


Early childhood services integrated within the education system

Responsibility for the funding and administration of early childhood care and education services was transferred from the Department of Social Welfare to the Department of Education on 1 July 1986.



The Report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Māori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare (DSW). It identified institutional racism in DSW and in wider New Zealand society and found DSW to be a ‘highly centralised bureaucracy insensitive to the needs of many of its clients’. It also suggested funding community work to strengthen Māori networks and family links.

In response, DSW accelerated moves away from foster care and residential institutions, closing most institutions, reorganising those that remained, introducing new residential care regulations and reallocating resources to community-based alternatives.


Te Whainga i Te Tika – In Search of Justice

The report of the Advisory Committee on Legal Services raised concerns about: children lacking effective legal protections; young people not understanding what was happening in courtrooms; institutional racism; and identified children and young people under the control of government departments as especially vulnerable


Corporal punishment

Corporal punishment in schools was abolished in practice (by policy) in 1987 but not legislatively until 1990.


The Mason Report

The “Committee of Inquiry into Procedures used in Certain Psychiatric Hospitals in Relation to Admission, Discharge or Release on Leave of Certain Classes of Patients”, investigated the treatment of patients who had a crossover with the justice system (particularly violent offenders). As a result, a network of regional psychiatric secure units such as Auckland’s Mason Clinic was set up.

It also called for integrated bicultural services to better meet Māori needs, acknowledging that psychiatric assessments used a western model that did not consider family, culture and spiritual identity.


The Picot Report and Tomorrow’s Schools

The Picot Report (Administering for Excellence: Effective Administration in Education) identified: over-centralised decision-making; complexity; lack of information and choice; lack of effective management practices; and powerlessness among parents, communities and staff. Government’s policy response, Tomorrow’s Schools, agreed with the Picot Report, and by the end of 1991, most of its major reforms were either in place or underway.


The Education Act (Department of Education to the Ministry of Education)

Gave effect to Tomorrow’s Schools, devolving the school system into approximately 2,600 self-managing schools, governed by elected boards of trustees (the legal employer of all school staff) and managed by Principals (as standalone Crown entities). Boards of trustees were responsible for making sure their schools were physically and emotionally safe places for students and staff.

The Department of Education was abolished (along with the regional Education Boards and Boards of Governors) and replaced with a smaller Ministry of Education. A range of new regulatory agencies were introduced, including the Education Review Office, NZ Qualifications Authority, and the Teacher Registration Board.

The Act also provided for special education for people under-21 in schools, special schools, special classes, clinics or services.


The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act

Arose from concerns about over-formalised treatment of juveniles, allegations of harsh treatment and racism (e.g. in Puao te Ata tu), and a lack of public accountability for its actions. Internationally, there was increasing recognition of children as having legal rights.

Distinguished between ‘care and protection’ and ‘youth justice’, acknowledged the rights and responsibilities of families and set up Family Group Conferences. Imprisonment became an intervention of last resort and Police Youth Aid dealt with most offending. The Act also established the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.


The Education Amendment Act

Prohibited the use of force (by way of correction or punishment) by anyone employed by a board of trustees, or supervising or controlling children, in an early childhood service, home-based care service or registered school.


Police Complaints Authority

In its first year 795 complaints were received, including death/ serious injury, harassment/excessive attention, suicide in Police care and the mistreatment of children. The Authority estimated 20 per cent of complaints were wholly or partially sustained.


Te Kōhanga Reo

Following the disestablishment of the Department of Māori Affairs, kōhanga reo operations were moved to the Ministry of Education.


Department of Social Welfare restructure

Five business units were created: the New Zealand Income Support Service; New Zealand Children and Young Persons Service; New Zealand Community Funding Agency; Social Policy Agency; and, the Corporate Office.


The Education (Home-Based Care) Order

Set out a code of practice for chartered home-based early childhood education services (providing education or care to fewer than five children under the age of 6 years). The regulations were replaced by Licensing Criteria for Home-Based Education and Care Services 2008.


The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act

Replaced the Mental Health Act 1969 and revised provisions for compulsory assessment and treatment. The Act had a new definition of mental disorder and set out patients’ rights, and processes, reviews and inquiries to protect them. The intent was to provide treatment in the least intrusive and restrictive way.


Police internal tribunal system

Established to deal with disciplinary matters of insufficient seriousness to place before the criminal Courts.


Ministry of Health, Regional Health Authorities and Crown Health Enterprises

Established to replace Department of Health and Area Health Boards. Residual Health Management Unit (later renamed the Crown Health Financing Agency) took over the remaining responsibilities for Area Health Board assets and liabilities not transferred to Regional Health Authorities and Crown Health Enterprises.


The Education Amendment Act

Increased the Teacher Registration Board’s responsibility to ensure teachers met ‘satisfactory teacher’ standards throughout their careers. It required all teachers to show evidence of meeting the standards when renewing their practising certificates, and made it illegal for state and state-integrated schools, other than kura kaupapa Māori, to employ people in permanent teaching posts who did not have a practising teachers’ certificate.


Department of Work and Income (known as WINZ)

Established with the merger of Income Support Service and the New Zealand Employment Service, Community Employment Group and Local Employment Co-ordination.


Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations

Required all early learning services (caring for three or more children under the age of 6 years) to be licensed, and set minimum standards for child protection, health and safety, curriculum, premises /facilities, qualification levels, and management. Allowed the Secretary for Education to immediately suspend a centre’s licence.


Department of Child, Youth and Family Services establishment

Children, Young Persons and their Families Agency established with the merger of the New Zealand Children and Young Persons Service and the New Zealand Community Funding Agency. Later in the year, it became the stand-alone Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (known as Child, Youth and Family).


Ministry of Social Policy

Established by the amalgamation of the Social Policy Agency and Corporate Office of the former Department of Social Welfare with the addition of a new Purchasing and Monitoring Group.


The Education Standards Act

The Act regulated school boarding houses, introduced compulsory registration for kura kaupapa and early childhood teachers, and required complaints about teachers conduct, competence, or serious misconduct to be reported to the Teachers’ Council. It also amended the Education Act 1989 to require mandatory police vetting for all teachers, non-teaching staff, and contractors every three years.


Ministry of Social Development

Established by the amalgamation of the Ministry of Social Policy and the Department of Work and Income.


District Health Boards

District Health Boards established, replacing the Crown Health Enterprises.


Lake Alice apology

Government apology and compensation to approximately 180 former patients of the Lake Alice Hospital Child and Adolescent Unit (1972–1978) after a private inquiry into mistreatment in the Unit.


Office for Disability Issues

Established within the Ministry of Social Development.


The Education (Hostels) Regulations

Prescribed a hostel licensing system and checks on operators, with options for direct intervention if serious safety concerns were identified. (Hostels do not include private boarding arrangements, but include: residential special schools, health camps, state and state-integrated schools’ boarding hostels, and private hostels for international students attending registered schools)


Child, Youth and Family merger

Child, Youth and Family merged as a service line within the Ministry of Social Development.


Kimberley Centre closed

The last residential disability care facility was closed (the Kimberley Centre in the Horowhenua).


Claims Resolution Team

Set up inside the Ministry of Social Development to respond to claims of historic abuse or neglect against Child, Youth and Family or its predecessor agencies.


Te Aiotanga:

The Report of the Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals (Te Aitotanga) summarised and evaluated the process of the Confidential Forum, and summarised what the Forum heard from former patients and their family members and support people, and former staff. Follow up actions were described.


The Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS)

An independent body set up for people to talk confidentially about their experiences, to help them identify (and get assistance to meet) their needs, and to refer those who want to follow up their concerns to a Government agency.

When it closed in 2015, the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service reported that of the 1,103 people they had met 626 reported being abused while in the care of the State.


Crown Health Financing Agency

The Crown Health Financing Agency was disestablished and its assets and liabilities transferred to the Ministry of Health, including responsibility for addressing claims of any historic abuse that occurred before 1 July 1993.


Health camp schools closed

Following the Education Review Office’s recommendation that the Ministries of Education and Social Development examine the role of health camps and their schools within the wider provision of services for students with moderate to severe behaviour difficulties, the health camp schools were closed. Responsibility for helping children with behavioural and social needs was contracted to Stand Children’s Services.

2014- 2015

The Vulnerable Children’s Act and the Vulnerable Children (Requirements for Safety Checks of Children’s Workers) Regulations 2015

The Act introduced new requirements for children’s worker safety checking. State services and organisations providing government-funded services to children and families were required to have a Child Protection Policy setting out their commitment to child protection and providing information on how staff should respond when they have concerns about the safety and wellbeing of children.

The regulations set out the details of the mandatory safety check. Anyone convicted of a specified offence could not be employed as a core children’s worker unless they had an exemption.


Oranga Tamariki

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki was established, as a separate agency to replace Child, Youth and Family.


The Education (Update) Amendment Act

Provided a legal framework for the appropriate use of physical restraint by teachers and authorised staff, allowing physical restraint only where there was a serious threat to safety. It also prohibited the use of seclusion in early childhood services, ngā kōhanga reo, schools and kura.


Abuse in Care Royal Commission

The Government announced the establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care (later extended to include Faith-Based Institutions). The Royal Commission’s contextual hearing, its first substantive public hearing, was held in November 2019.  



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