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Chapter 14 — Children’s Homes

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Current circumstances


This section of the Report presents the evidence provided to the Confidential Committee by witnesses in relation to their experiences of abuse in Children’s Homes in Ireland over a period of 73 years between 1919 and 1992. The majority of Children’s Homes, previously known as orphanages and approved schools, were managed by Catholic religious communities or Boards of Trustees affiliated to Protestant churches. In latter decades a number of Children’s Homes were managed and funded by State agencies. The Homes were generally privately managed and were, in earlier decades, not subject to the same statutory inspections as the Industrial Schools. Placement of a child in a Children’s Home could be made directly by their parent, or guardian, on a voluntary basis. Such placements occurred most frequently in the context of a family crisis and were paid for by private means. Other sources of funding included private endowments and charitable benevolent funds. A child could also be placed in a Children’s Home by order of the court under the Children Act, 1908 following an application by officers1 of the local health authority or the regional Health Board, and in particular circumstances by the Garda Síochana.2



Sixty one (61) witnesses, 38 male and 23 female, gave evidence to the Committee about their experiences of abuse in 19 Children’s Homes. Witnesses gave evidence in relation to 16 mixed gender Homes, and three Homes for boys. Nine (9) mixed gender Homes were the subject of reports by both male and female witnesses. Four (4) witnesses each made reports of abuse in relation to two Homes.


Witnesses who reported abuse in Children’s Homes gave evidence in relation to their experiences in residential care across all decades as follows: Thirty (30) witnesses were discharged prior to 1960. Sixteen (16) witnesses were discharged in the 1960s. Eleven (11) witnesses were discharged in the 1970s. Four (4) witnesses were discharged in the 1980s and 1990s.


Twelve (12) of the Children’s Homes were located in Irish cities and the other seven were located in provincial and rural areas.


In addition to the reports of abuse outlined in this chapter, seven witnesses also gave evidence of abuse in other out-of-home care placements. Those included Industrial Schools, foster care,3 hospitals, special needs services4, primary and second-level schools, and residential work and other settings, details of which are reported in the relevant sections of this Report.


On the basis of the information provided by witnesses at their hearings it is understood that their pathways of entry into Children’s Homes varied depending on their age, gender, family circumstances, and the context of their admission. The following section outlines the pre-admission social and family circumstances of the 61 witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee, and was provided by them on the basis of what was known to them from their own family history and from official records.


As indicated in Table 66, 22 of the witnesses were over 60 years of age at the time of their hearing and three witnesses were under 40 years, with the majority of witnesses reporting abuse in Children’s Homes being in their 50s and 60s, as follows:
Age range Males Females Total witnesses
20–29 years 2 0 2
30–39 years 0 1 1
40–49 years 12 2 14
50–59 years 10 12 22
60–69 years 11 8 19
70 + years 3 0 3
Total 38 23 61


Forty three (43) of the 61 witnesses who gave evidence about abuse in Children’s Homes reported that they were born in Dublin. Sixteen (16) witnesses were born in 11 other Irish counties, and two were born outside the State.


More than half of the witnesses reported that they were born into two-parent households, including those where parents were subsequently widowed or separated, as Table 67 illustrates:
Marital status of parents Males Females Total witnesses
Married 17 10 27
Single 9 7 16
Separated 4 4 8
Widowed 1 1 2
Co-habiting 2 0 2
Unavailable 5 1 6
Total 38 23 61


There were some gender differences in the information provided by male and female witnesses in these categories. A slightly higher proportion of female witnesses reported being born to single mothers, while more male witnesses stated that they had no information about their family of origin.


Most witnesses provided information regarding their family background and Table 68 indicates the occupational status or estimated skill level of their parents at the time of admission, reported by the witnesses:5
Occupational status Males Females Total witnesses
Professional worker 4 2 6
Managerial and technical 1 0 1
Non-manual 3 2 5
Skilled manual 1 3 4
Semi-skilled 3 0 3
Unskilled 18 12 30
Unavailable 8 4 12
Total 38 23 61


Thirty (30) witnesses reported that their parents were unskilled at the time of their admission, by contrast with 12 witnesses who reported their parents were professional, managerial or non-manual workers. Generally, witnesses admitted to the Children’s Homes from other institutional settings were unable to report any detailed information about their parents’ occupational status. Many of those witnesses had been in out-of-home care since infancy.


Many of the 61 witnesses who gave evidence about their experiences of abuse in Children’s Homes were residing outside Ireland at the time of their hearing, as shown in Table 69:
Country of residence Males Females Total witnesses
Ireland 28 11 39
UK 6 11 17
USA/Canada 3 0 3
Australia/New Zealand 1 0 1
Mainland Europe 0 1 1
Total 38 23 61


As illustrated in the above table there was a notable difference between the numbers of male and female witnesses living in Ireland and in the UK. Female witnesses’ country of residence was equally divided between Ireland and the UK, with almost half of the witnesses living in each country at the time of their hearing, whereas the majority of male witnesses were resident in Ireland.


Fifty five (55) witnesses reported having a total of 224 siblings. Six (6) witnesses reported that they were lone children. Thirty eight (38) witnesses, 23 male and 15 female, reported having 111 siblings in out-of-home care.

  1. Officers – Children’s officers were employed by local health authorities prior to 1970 and were increasingly replaced by social workers thereafter.
  2. Children Act, 1908 section 64.
  3. Foster care – previously known in Ireland as ‘boarding out’, also referred to as ‘at nurse’, is a form of out-of-home care that allows for a child to be placed in a family environment rather than an institution.
  4. Special needs services – includes day and residential schools and facilities designated to meet the educational needs of children with intellectual, physical or sensory impairments. Such services were generally managed by religious congregations and were both publicly and privately funded.
  5. The categorisation is based on Census 2002, Volume 6 Occupations, Appendix 2, Definitions – Labour Force. In two-parent households the father’s occupation was recorded and in other instances the occupational status of the sole parent was recorded, in so far as it was known.
  6. Formal child care training was first established in Ireland in the 1970s.
  7. Primary Certificate – examination certificate awarded at the end of primary school education, it was abolished in 1967.
  8. Note – a number of witnesses were admitted to more than one Children’s Home, and made reports of abuse in more than one Children’s Home, therefore, the number of reports are greater than the number of witnesses.
  9. Section 1(1)(a)
  10. Section 1(1)(b)
  11. Section (1)(1)(c) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act
  12. Section 1(1)(d) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act