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TWP – sorted?

Written By: - Date published: 12:10 am, November 4th, 2019 - 15 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, child abuse, child welfare, culture, domestic violence, Ethics, health and safety, Social issues, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, uncategorized, violence against women, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

I remained relatively silent after coming out publicly, alongside anonymous sources, to expose theft, bullying and a culture at Te Whare Pounamu, Dunedin Women’s Refuge that refused to report child abuse. After the original story broke I resisted writing about issues that media overlooked. I resisted the urge to challenge Women Refuge Chief Executive Ang Jury’s victim blaming comments . But her latest media comments cannot go unchallenged.

In recent articles from the Otago Daily Times and Radio New Zealand , Ang Jury stated: “[t]he service at the refuge has never been interrupted through this process, I should make that clear”.

Based on my knowledge of the Refuge, interruption to the service is exactly what is needed. The service should be interrupted to ensure that those facilitating the children’s programmes have the necessary training, skills and character required to work with children. It should be interrupted to ensure that those running the programme are aware of their obligations to report abuse concerns, and to ensure that staff are actually willing to do so. In my opinion, interruption would be a very positive thing.

It irks me that the media and general public are  focused on theft, whilst essentially ignoring the more concerning issue of child safety. Should we really ignore the snippets within the independent interagency report that indicate a much bigger problem is seething beneath the facade of Ang Jury’s  PR spin?

Not surprisingly, the TWP Board disputed the findings of the independent investigations, which just smacks of the same ‘deny and blame’ mentality that I encountered when I still worked for them. The MSD report based on the independent SSA and Deloitte investigations stand on their own merits. The TWP Board, despite their best efforts, cannot escape the evidence that proves the extent of the problems and dysfunction within an organisation that they are supposed to govern. Meanwhile Ang Jury’s recent media comments imply that everything in the organisation is ‘sorted’. It’s not. I am not sure how Ang Jury can make that statement when so many issues remain unresolved.

The report pointed out many failings within TWP, but of note are the concerns it raised about the suitability of staff running the children’s programmes. This not fully addressed within the report because, though revealed by the investigation, it was not a part of the initial concerns I raised. I feel this smacks of negligence on the part of MSD and it has left me wondering why it has not received the attention it deserves.

The Board has displayed a reluctance to address problems with the urgency initially required by MSD. They gave them until 15th February 2019 to address various problems, including procedures around managing child abuse reports. Yet by 27th June 2019, some four months after the deadline, they had failed to meet the critical actions required of them. This goes hand in hand with their attempts to deny the problems, minimise the concerns and blame others while continuing to support an abusive and dysfunctional management that is hell bent on maintaining a longstanding vile and pernicious culture.

The Board is a part and parcel of the dysfunction within TWP. The Board sat with the knowledge that concerns existed long before MSD stepped in to investigate. In fact, I made the Board aware of issues in May 2018. I have no evidence they investigated any of the concerns I raised with them despite their assurances  that they would. Notwithstanding that the same Board had experienced similar problems some 3 years earlier, the fact so many issues haven’t been resolved  is surprising given the supposed level of ‘expertise’ that some Board members are purported to hold. Given these failings, it is my view that the Board should resign.

On top of that, the MSD report highlights the fact that  the Child Advocate (CA), is unwilling to follow through on reports of child abuse, Whilst I was working in the organisation the Child Advocate and the manager lied to me about their intentions to follow through on serious care and protection matters I’d become privy to. Not only that, but they began targeting me on a daily basis, seemingly for no other reason than that I had been trying to fulfill my professional obligations. The main perpetrator was the manager. Other staff had similar experiences when it came to reporting care and protection issues.

These were the primary reasons I made a complaint to MSD (after attempting to go to the TWP Board and the National Collective). Eventually I went to the media when it appeared the Board would continue to deny and minimise matters while blaming others for their own shortcomings. Despite her reluctance to report abuse, the Child Advocate remains in her role to this day. I will let the reader think about the potential consequences of that for any vulnerable child disclosing abuse to a supposedly trusted adult; an adult who then either ignores the disclosure or acts on it inappropriately.

Ang Jury in classic ‘feel sorry for us’ style claims that “staff have been put through the wringer”. Is Ang Jury suggesting that MSD put staff through the wringer? MSD actually handled the investigations with incredible sensitivity and care. It seems that Ang jury, like the TWP Board, is choosing to ignore the impacts of ongoing abuse that staff suffer within TWP. Those who have been put through the wringer are those who were brave enough to tell the truth.

Management certainly put me and my colleagues through the wringer when I worked there.  To name it, such abuse included, not having access to resources needed to do our jobs, being forced to work extra hours unpaid, being forced into unsafe situations without support, constant put downs and criticisms, being maligned by management within the workplace and in public, passive aggressive strategies such as the ‘silent treatment’ and demanding we drop essential client work at a moment’s notice to do such things as clean toilets, as well as ignoring basic significant health and safety issues. I could go on.

Ang Jury should be familiar with the dynamics of abuse, there’s information about it on the Women’s Refuge website. The power and control wheel is also a very useful tool to analyse the behaviour and types of abuse that many of us experienced at TWP. https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/

These behaviours negatively impacted on our wellbeing, and to date this has not been addressed by anyone – not the Board and certainly not Ang Jury. In fact, what happened in the organisation not only adversely affected us, it also negatively affected clients. These experiences and the lack of support or redress contradict Ang Jury’s belief that it is all ‘sorted’ and that “the quality of service offered to the women and children going through the refuge was, and would continue to be high”.

How can that be the case when management has deliberately shut down abuse concerns, compromised and bullied staff and encouraged theft. Some staff were subjected to such high levels of psychological abuse that they simply dreaded going to work. The Duluth power and control wheel is a useful tool to understand the types of behaviour and abuse that staff were subjected to at TWP. Management and the Board failed to act when they were informed about the negative impact the dysfunctional behaviour (which occurred even during the investigation process) was having on staff well-being. How could we provide a high quality service when we were facing our own abusers within the supposedly safe haven of Women’s Refuge?

Ang Jury has even stooped to minimising the theft that occurred at Te Whare Pounamu with her comment that staff were ““being a little bit loose with donations”. Let’s call it what it was; it was theft. Management were stealing and they encouraged staff to do the same. From my experience it felt like an initiation. It was more than staff being a ‘little bit loose with donations’ around food and second hand clothing. It included full scale theft of copious amounts of new toys and other goods donated for children and women, and it had been occurring for years. So making ridiculous statements that the organisation was “being a bit loose with donations” is just rubbish and insulting PR spin, ; especially to those of us who took a huge risk in outing the normalisation of theft at multiple levels in the organisation. For the record it should be stated that not all staff were stealing so they shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush.

The problems  at Te Whare Pounamu are more widespread than just TWP. From the time the first story broke I have been contacted by staff from other Refuges, all telling me very similar stories. Ang Jury and MSD know of at least one of those other Refuges. Moreover, a perusal of the many comments on social media reinforce that the problem is a big festering wound. What I have realised since speaking out is that the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges (NCIWR) have some big problems. Te Whare Pounamu is just the tip of a very big and potentially unstable iceberg.

Women from different Refuges have been approaching me with stories so similar to mine that it might seem there’s a manual from which some managers are learning their craft. These women are not impressed by Ang Jury’s media comments. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before they find a way to address the problems in their own Refuges. Given the widespread lack of faith in Ang Jury and NCIWR, I am actively encouraging them to go to MSD and if necessary, to take their issues to the media.

This is a sad reflection of an organisation that claims its “purpose is to liberate women, children, families and whānau from family violence”. There’s nothing liberating for those of us who have, and continue to be subjected to abusive power and control strategies within the organisation. I think it is time that Women’s Refuge took a long hard look at their operations and take steps to empower current staff (nationally) to speak their truth, without feeling like they’re going to lose their jobs if they do speak up. It has become apparent that safety planning isn’t just something some Refuge staff do with clients, it is necessary for staff to have their own safety plans to manage the abuse they suffer at the hands of management.

In closing, the manager of Te Whare Pounamu has finally resigned after putting a number of staff at the organisation through the wringer. Meanwhile, the Board continue to deny the harm that was caused. I’m told that the same abusive manager was still able to attend the recent NCIWR AGM, despite no longer being employed by the organisation. What is the word that would describe NCIWR allowing her continued involvement after all of the harm she has caused? To add insult to injury, according to word from within the sector, she’s also received a golden handshake…

That’s not dissimilar to the experiences of domestic violence victims, where the victims are left wanting, while their abusers walk away unscathed. In this case, it looks like the abuser’s been rewarded.

15 comments on “TWP – sorted? ”

  1. Kate 1

    Wow! How can they let that child advocate keep working there?

  2. Glen 2

    Hugely dissapointing that MSD have allowed this to continue, vulnerable children NEED a voice…

  3. Maureen 3

    Ang Jury states "the quality of service offered to the women and children going through the refuge was, and would continue to be high" but children are disclosing abuse and the child advocate does Nothing??? That's disgraceful – they shouldn't be in that position if they can't follow the correct process to ensure children's safety….and the board allows this to continue!

    [lprent: Making multiple comments from the same location and pretty obviously from the same person under different handles is commonly known as trolling. Artificially crowd sourcing your opinions just makes you look like a fool and devalues them. We don’t like it from anyone regardless of what they are saying.

    We expect that people will stick to a single handle and express their own opinions rather than acting like an machine being an idiot. That is an abuse of this site and we don’t tolerate it regardless of how much you might think it is a good idea.

    Your varied details have now been added into the blacklist for a week or two. Your two most recent comments have been put into spam. I have left your other two comments up without a note. If I see you doing it again, I will expend some time to castigate you before blocking your ability to even read this site. Grow up and express your opinions as yourself.

    I’d suggest you read our policy before you piss off the moderators further. ]

  4. greywarshark 4

    Needs a total cleanout. There has to be someone in charge who is objective and does audits that are reliable. Otherwise the situation is so unhealthy and the people on the inside are so compromised that whistle-blowers will find it hard to get corroboration. Also there could be nepotism

    • Bill 4.1

      There is no-one in a position to overhaul what is essentially a fiefdom. (Dunedin isn't the only one). The structure of Women's Refuge is flawed to such a degree that accountability is just a word.

      It's what happens when hierarchy gets inserted into an environment where the virtues of horizontality. are extolled but not understood; where there is very little awareness of what must be guarded against if accountability and "bottom up" structures are to retain integrity…and where legal requirements insist on there being a hierarchical structure (eg – Incorporated Societies Act that a number of women's refuges are registered under)

      • greywarshark 4.1.1

        It can be difficult to run a charitable organisation fairly and effectively. With a business there is profit and professionalism. There may be mainly opinion and prejudice in the heads of people running the charity.

        People on a board may not have a clear understanding of the ideals of the charity. A list of ethical behaviours can be drawn up and even put on the wall, but how do they work in practice? Putting an example was a new idea to the person I last was working with.

        So you get people with variations about the nature of what they are doing, some widely varying. Committees should all have a session reading through the documents together, noting questions and then each can check perceptions when questions are answered by someone who is actually knowledgable.

        And consensus. So painful – juries now don't have to be unanimous. You get nagged into agreeing, because 'that's what we do'. You feel superfluous, you are just a body to meet the requirements of a forum and no-one is interested in your opinion if it differs from the king or queen bee and followers.

        It is probably a good idea to be incorporated – it does rein the group in to some extent. Of course it is helpful if all go through the documents and that a system for doing the work is planned that fits the clauses of the incorporation document.

        • Bill

          A basic problem with incorporation (in this context) is that it creates a hierarchy (you have to have that structure to get incorporation), and the hierarchy (because of the national structure of women's refuge that aims for autonomy) exists as a stand alone entity that lacks effective oversight (fiefdom).

  5. Cinny 5

    It's really sad to know that such an important organisation isn't functioning as it should.

    Here's hoping a new manager will change the culture there.

    • Bill 5.1

      The manager, while being a major cog, wasn't the central shaft, yes? The manager was employed by the Board and empowered by the Board. The Board in Dunedin has a history….

      • Cinny 5.1.1

        Wonder who elects the board? I haven't been following the story but it sounds toxic.

        • Chrissy

          That's a really good question Cinny. Who does elect the board? From my understanding it is whoever those in 'power' can muster to maintain their power at any given time. Of course I could be wrong but word is that there was some type of coup back in 2014 where the previous Board were ousted. Apparently a bunch of random and unknown TWP 'members' turned up at the AGM that year, held a caucus and voted in a new Board, most of whom have remained since 2014. I imagine maintaining their power is very easy if they know how to ensure random 'members' attend AGMs and keep voting them in. Call me cynical but it does seem a lot like the fiefdom that Bill describes.

  6. just saying 6

    Took me a little while to remember my handle from when I was a regular here.

    A couple of things. First, I understand your frustration, Chrissie. Good for you in blowing the whistle.

    This kind of problem is widespread throughout the non-government sector. It is a bullying/mobbing hotspot. The are many stories (and I know some horrendous ones) that will never be told because the usual outcome for truth-tellers is long-term punishment, public humiliation, and widespread condemnation.

    The volunteer sector is being exploited in a variety of ways by careerists in management, (often the governing boards) and also by overtly profit-making interests.

    One of the things I've noticed is that predatory types find such organisations child's play to manipulate. If a lion could impersonate a gazelle it would not have to expend much energy in making a kill, and also conserve its best efforts for outside enterprises, often those that it is able to access via gazelle membership and contacts.

    People tend to expect that others think and act according to the image they project. It has become ever more profitable and commonplace for the selfish and/or ruthless to manage such impressions via the organisations they associate themselves with. Groups and causes associated with "caring," "integrity", and "unselfishness" and are rife with them, especially the more trendy and high-profile, but not just these.

    And the 'social need' sector can be mined by a variety of means beyond virtue signalling, reputation enhancement, and exploiting the well-meaning and sincere.

    As a final comment it is also time for the left to stop being so naïve. We've been repeately ripped off through supporting people who turned out to be far more self-interested than collectivist. Maybe we should get to know and to heed the warning signs in advance, and also be aware of our own shadows and also those of the groups and individuals we support, (and be especially vigilant in looking out for the signs of eclipse).

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