Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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His findings were so serious that it is necessary to quote the report extensively: I visited Cappoquin, St Michael’s Convent ... and observed the following points which I discussed with the Resident Manager, [Sr Carina] as I have done on previous visits of mine to Cappoquin. At the latter part of my visit [the child psychiatrist] arrived at St Michael’s. (1)The old Convent is in a very serious situation as to the ability to continue to provide Residential Child Care. (2)There are neither in my opinion the resources nor the facilities to provide for the basic needs of children listed as per attached. (3)At present there is only one group of children, principally boys, but including two girls, who are nice children but are having bad experiences in the group. That statement is a personal observation and staff confidential views. (4)The older boys who should have been discharged now are bullying the younger children, both physically and emotionally. I have consistently advised [Sr Carina] to discharge these boys and to the full nature of the problems that are happening within the precincts of the Convent. This has been confirmed to me by staff that “bullying” is taking place. There are also a cross-section of problems happening in the Town of Cappoquin that without doubt are the result of institutionalisation and negative Child Care attitudes. (5)Problems are now being encountered by younger boys who clearly wish to follow the patterns of their peers, and subsequently [Sr Carina] and [the child psychiatrist] wish to transfer these children ... The inappropriate transferring of children has to cease at Cappoquin from St Michael’s. (6)There is a grave danger that the attitudes of the Nuns at St Michael’s will perpetrate into the new Group Homes. In fact it has done so to some degree where I know that children are sent to bed for some problem by Lay Staff and ignored. Modern Child Care practice contains ample sanctions, if skilfully and professionally applied but the above practice is both detrimental and damaging to any child and there is absolutely no reason for the above practice. (7)There is a grave danger that this Residential Child Care Centre may be subjected to a Press campaign. (8)The Rev. Mother and myself have discussed these issues, she is extremely concerned. (9)Can we request that [Sr Carina] be relieved of her post and Sister [Isabella]5 who works at St Michael’s. (10)[The child psychiatrist] has a tremendous influence at St Michael’s. As he is no longer attached to the ... Health Board I suggest that St Michael’s use the appropriate Psychiatrist on the Health Board. (11)Money is being mis-appropriated for the use of past pupils who do not make any contributions to their care and the Department of Education does not pay any Capitation, as they are over-age. (12)If the Group size was reduced drastically at St Michael’s to 1 of 12 children plus 2 Lay Staff and 1 Nun as Resident Manager one should see a marked improvement in overall care attitudes. (13)I am going back on the 26th / 27th July to review the whole of the committed children at St Michael’s and have staff meetings with all the Nuns and the Lay Staff together with the Rev. Mother. (14)We are in the area of malfunctioning and nearing neglect totally of the children’s emotional needs, and we consequently have to scrutinise the future of St Michael’s very closely or the Department could be seen to be colluding with St Michael’s Child Care practice.


Following the June 1976 visit to Cappoquin, Mr Granville met the Resident Manager and expressed his concern about the presence of older boys who were former pupils and who should have been discharged. He was particularly concerned about two young girls among the children in the institution.


Mr Granville paid a two-day visit in July 1976, and the problem of the older boys had clearly not been addressed, although he got a commitment that they would be sent out to lodgings.


He noted that there were 29 children divided between two group homes, and the Resident Manager had 23 in the old building. She assured Mr Granville that she would make a sincere effort to create another separate unit to accommodate 12 younger children in the near future without support from the Department of Education. The 11 remaining children could then be housed more comfortably in the Institution with some re-arrangement of the existing rooms. Staff shortages, and one or two particularly difficult children, were stretching the capabilities of the staff. He met all the staff, including lay staff, and discussed the needs of the children on this visit.


In a follow-up letter, Mr Granville set out in clear terms the steps to be taken to improve the situation. These included the discharge of a number of children, regular reviews of the children’s progress, regular staff meetings, and better contact with the social workers with regard to Health Board children, and he enclosed a number of Master Index Books for record keeping. He decided for the time being not to transfer some of the younger children out of Cappoquin, on the assurance from the Resident Manager that she would follow up the proposed new unit.


A bungalow was purchased by the Congregation in 1976, and the Department agreed to help with the cost.


By November 1976, the old building had been vacated and replaced by the two purpose-built group homes and the new bungalow.


This was when the Industrial School ceased. Letters and correspondence from then on appeared on notepaper headed St Michael’s Childcare Centre.


Children were sent to Cappoquin not because it was suitable for their needs but to keep the Institution open. When falling numbers jeopardised the existence of the School, the nuns threatened to resign their certificate unless more children were assigned to Cappoquin, and the Department acceded to the request, notwithstanding the serious deficiencies of which it was aware. The Department’s own files contained evidence of the troubled history, inadequate facilities and poor management in the Industrial School which should have led to serious concerns about the placement of more children there.


For the period 1977 to 1990, the average number of children accommodated in the three new group homes was approximately 50. It appears from the documentation that the aim was to try to get this number reduced to an average of 30 between two group homes, Group Home A and Group Home B, with 15 in each.


In the late 1970s, the Resident Manager, Sr Rosetta,6 notified the Department that she had appointed Sr Callida,7 then House Parent in Group Home A, to be her deputy.


In May 1978, the three group homes had between them 48 children under the care of 10 full-time staff.


In 1978, Mr Graham Granville carried out a three-day general inspection and, overall, he was satisfied with the homes. He was not happy at the lack of social work support for the children, but commented favourably on other aspects of the facility. He thought the environment in the group homes was excellent, although he did highlight the need for refurbishment in the two original houses.


Mr Granville observed that there was a major problem on the educational front if the children were to be considered for technical/vocational schools. He also noted that no male staff had been employed because (a) no suitable candidate had applied, and (b) past experiences had caused problems of quality of personnel.


In a letter to Sr Rosetta, he outlined some of his observations and recommendations. He said that: ... overall there has been constructive valuable improvement in the residential child care policy that is showing results in the elements of human relations and child development.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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  21. This is a pseudonym. Sr Lorenza later worked in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny. See St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny chapter.
  22. Mother Carina.
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