Dilworth response to invitation to appear on Sunday programme

20 June 2022
Letter to Sunday TVNZ producers

Re: invitation to appear on ‘Sunday’

Thank you for your invitation to appear on the ‘Sunday’ programme to talk about our response to historical abuse at Dilworth School, and questions sent on 15 June 2022.

With some matters still before the courts and our focus firmly on establishing both an Independent Inquiry into Abuse at Dilworth School and an Independent Redress Programme for Old Boy survivors, I must respectfully decline your invitation. It is critical to the success of these programmes and survivors’ trust in them that they now be allowed to establish themselves and commence their work.

With respect to your list of questions, most relate to matters which will be considered by the Independent Inquiry. The Inquiry intends to provide its report and recommendations in December this year, which will be made available when the Inquiry is concluded. The Board is resolute in its commitment to support and promote the work of the Inquiry, preserve its independence and garner the trust and confidence of Old Boy survivors in the Inquiry. For these reasons I will not be commenting on historical matters relating to Old Boy survivors.

In the meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with some background information on Dilworth School and how we have responded to the issue of historical abuse in our community.

About Dilworth School

Dilworth School was founded in accordance with the terms of the Will of early Auckland farmer and businessman, Irish-born James Dilworth, who died in 1894. He left an endowment to fund a boarding school for boys from families of straitened circumstances so that they may fulfil their potential as good and useful citizens. The boys-only boarding School opened in 1906 in the old Dilworth homestead on the site of the Senior Campus on Erin Street. The endowment currently supports the education of up to 640 boys in perpetuity.

Dilworth is the largest boys only boarding-only school in Australasia with three campuses in Auckland: Year 7 and 8 at the Junior Campus, Year 9 at the Rural Campus and Years 10-13 at the Senior Campus. We have provided more than 5,500 boys with a life-changing scholarship that includes free tuition, boarding, uniforms, sports fees and music tuition. The School’s academic results are above the national average - comparable to some of the best schools in New Zealand.

Student success at Dilworth School depends on all our young people, our rangatahi, feeling safe and being heard, as well as ensuring the wider School community regularly and openly talks about the student experience. Dilworth boys are selected based on family need and a boy’s suitability for our boarding environment. It is often reported that we educate boys from “difficult backgrounds”, but this isn’t a fair or accurate description. Our selection process acknowledges boys from families we know will make the most of the opportunity afforded by a Dilworth education to make a difference for their communities.

Our response to historical abuse

In 2018, the Board commissioned an independent review of all files with respect to reports of abuse, as well as the School’s student care and wellbeing framework, education systems, policies and programmes.

Further in September 2019, while the Royal Commission of Inquiry was being established, I wrote to all Old Boys acknowledging that abuse had occurred at our School and encouraging old boys to engage with the Police, and Royal Commission of Inquiry and announcing the independent Listening Service.

Since that initial communication in 2019, the number of Old Boys who have subsequently disclosed that they were abused at Dilworth is well beyond what we expected. We are pleased these Old Boys are engaging with the independent Listening Service and obtaining the support they need.

In light of what we learned through that process, we have publicly acknowledged that the safeguarding practices of Dilworth School in the past did not adequately ensure the safety of our students and that the School’s past procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse were insufficient. We apologise unreservedly for this. The past practices do not reflect Dilworth School of today or our current safeguarding and child protection practices and other policies regarding the care, safety and well-being of Dilworth students.

In my capacity as Chairman of the Dilworth Trust Board I have publicly apologised, and will continue to apologise, to all Old Boy survivors, their families and the wider Dilworth community for those failings and the abuse that occurred at our School, and for not ensuring a consistently safe environment for all Dilworth students.

We deeply regret the harm and hurt caused to our Old Boys survivors. Fully understanding and addressing what led to the abuse, and acknowledging our response to it at the time, is critical to supporting Old Boy survivors, their whānau and our wider Dilworth community.

We are committed to confronting the issue of historical abuse openly and honestly with our community. Since 2018 we have taken a series of demonstrable steps towards fulfilling our commitment.

This month saw the announcement of the Inquirers, Hon. Dame Silvia Cartwright ONZ PCNZM DBE QSO DStJ and Frances Joychild QC, to lead an Independent Inquiry into abuse at Dilworth to more fully understand the contributing factors, including what the School may or may not have done at the time. The Inquiry will be launched on 1 July. Later this month, a Redress Programme will also be initiated which we hope will contribute meaningfully to the healing process for Old Boy survivors.

A summary of steps taken since 2018 includes:

  • Commissioning an independent clinical psychologist to advise the Board and prepare a set of protocols, which were peer-reviewed by independent experts both here and in Australia. The protocols set out best-practice abuse prevention and outlined processes to follow should a former or current student come forward with a complaint about physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
  • Appointing a Protection & Response Committee of senior School management to oversee and implement the programmes and institutional culture required to give effect to the protocols and enhance the safety of our current students.
  • Establishing an independent Listening Service for Old Boys to access professional counselling services as well as psychological therapy and support, at no cost to Old Boys. To date, more than 100 people have accessed this confidential service, and 68 have received fully funded therapy.
  • Making safety improvements to our buildings.
  • Adopting new policies and processes for safeguarding, recruitment, staff training, student education and response to reports of abuse.
  • Sharing information with the NZ Police - which was the catalyst for Operation Beverly and this was acknowledged by Detective Senior Sergeant Geoff Baber when giving evidence at a recent trial.
  • Supporting Old Boys wanting to contact the Police and the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care about any experiences from their time at Dilworth. We have continued to co-operate with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care and the NZ Police.
  • Requesting through the courts not to have the School’s name suppressed in connection with Operation Beverly proceedings as we wanted to discuss our response to historical abuse openly within our School community and with Old Boys.  We have also agreed to the lifting of historical orders suppressing the School's name, provided consent to do so has been given by the complainant Old Boy survivor.
  • Providing specific educational training for staff and students on the protocols reinforcing that abuse in any form, be it physical, emotional or sexual, is not tolerated or permitted at Dilworth.
  • Embarking in 2018 on a School-wide change programme with a focus on student safety, student voice and parental involvement at its core. We have implemented Stymie, an app to enable students to report any concerns they have at school.
  • Establishing an Independent Inquiry, to be led by the Hon. Dame Silvia Cartwright ONZ PCNZM DBE QSO DStJ and Co-Inquirer Frances Joychild QC, and an independent Redress Programme, the details of which will be announced later this month. We are fully committed to learning from the Independent Inquiry’s findings and implementing its recommendations, as well as to ensuring the Redress Programme brings meaningful resolution and redress to Old Boy survivors and their families.
  • Developing a Redress Programme, which will be the first in New Zealand, to provide Old Boy survivors with redress. The Board has received and taken into account extensive feedback on the Programme’s proposed Terms of Reference from Old Boy survivors, those affected by abuse, and the wider Dilworth community, as well as substantive contributions from legal representatives of survivors.
  • Initially, the Independent Inquiry and the Redress Programme will run concurrently – however the Redress Programme Panel will have the ability to closely consider the Inquiry’s findings as it makes its determinations.

Further details about the Redress Programme and its finalised Terms of Reference, including the quantum of financial redress, will be shared when the Programme is launched at the end of this month. While we cannot undo the harm done to Old Boy survivors, the Trustees are committed to providing meaningful redress to Old Boy survivors and to ensuring the well-being and protection of our current students by providing a school environment that is safe and nurturing.

You can find more information about our response to historical abuse at www.dilworthresponse.org.nz including the Independent Inquiry Terms of Reference, FAQs and our earlier public statements.

I hope this information is helpful as you consider your approach to framing our response to historical abuse. Thank you again for the offer to respond.

Kind regards
Aaron Snodgrass
Dilworth Trust Board