The role of Children’s Commissioner was established in 1989 to be an independent advocate for children. Since 1989, there have been eight Commissioners, all unified with an unwavering commitment to confront the systemic issues mokopuna are affected by but do not have a voice in changing.
The first Commissioner Dr Ian Hassell, played a significant role in calling for its establishment. Each Commissioner that followed Dr Hassell has brought a unique background, strategy and set of priorities to the role, unified by an unwavering commitment to what is best for children.
Dr. Sir Ian Hassall (1989-1994)
Dr Sir Ian Hassall was a paediatrician before helping to establish the first Office of the Children’s Commissioner in 1989. During his term he emphasised the importance of children’s health and legal rights. Hassall worked to establish frameworks and improve data collection systems for monitoring the Children and Young Persons Service (CYPS). He also built a more “insider” approach with government agencies. Sir Ian passed away on the 14th of June, 2021.
Laurie O’Reilly (1994-1997)
Laurie O’Reilly brought his experiences as a family court lawyer, foster parent, and work with “street kids” to serve the Office. He focused on the rights of children particularly within the education and justice systems. O’Reilly’s work included public criticism of and individual advocacy with Police, family and criminal courts, schools and CYPS. During his term, he established a more public role with a notable increase in calls to the Child Rights Line. Laurie passed away on the 15th of January, 1998.
Roger McClay (1998-2003)
Roger McClay was a teacher and politician prior to becoming Commissioner. His work had a stronger policy focus and there was a notable increase in the Office’s engagement in policy development. McClay’s built relationships with non-government organisations and parliamentarians. He also advocated for the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act - the defence of reasonable force for caregivers charged with assaulting children.
Dr. Cindy Kiro (2003-2009)
Dr Cindy Kiro’s background before joining the Commission was in academia, social work, community engagement, and Māori development. Dr Kiro was the first Māori Children’s Commissioner and first wāhine in the role. During her time in the Office, she focused on social issues including family violence and child poverty. She also advocated in favour of the repeal of Section 59 (sometimes known as “anti smacking”). Dr Kiro was involved in the establishment of a monitoring framework for the Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS) and an outcome focused approach for the Early Intervention programme. She also strengthened the Office’s international relationships.
Dr. John Angus (2009-2010)
Dr John Angus was a social worker and social policy advisor prior to becoming the Commissioner for a two-year period with an interim mandate. His work focused on producing a report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and conducting a Review of CYFS. A new Minister and change of government coincided with his time as Commissioner for Children. John passed away on the 10th of January 2015.
Dr. Russell Wills (2011-2016)
Dr Russell Wills was a paediatrician before leading the Office and divided his time between working at the Hawke’s Bay hospital and the Office during his time as Commissioner. During his term he emphasised the need to address child poverty and child health services. Dr Wills’ work included listening to and amplifying children’s voices, and systematic monitoring of CYFS. He helped build the public profile of the Office and the role of Children’s Commissioner including the establishment of the Child Poverty Monitor – a collaboration with Otago University and the JR McKenzie Trust.
Judge Andrew Becroft (2016 – 2021)
Judge Andrew Becroft was the Principal Youth Court judge before leading the Office for five years. As Children’s Commissioner, he was vocal in his calls for bold action on child poverty, reform of the care and protection system with Te Kuku o te Manawa, and raising the minimum age of Criminal Responsibility. During his tenure, the Office supported the development of the government’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy with the What Makes a Good Life? project. He finished his term on 31 October 2021.