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Chapter 15 — Foster care

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Current circumstances


Foster care, previously known in Ireland as ‘boarding out’ or ‘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. Foster care has been provided over the years through the State and non-government sectors, and by both formal and informal private arrangements. Funding for these placements was generally made to the foster parents by the organisation responsible for the placement or by the child’s relatives. Foster care arrangements, including the assessment of potential foster carers, the supervision of foster placements, and payment allowances for children in foster care have been standardised and become better regulated in recent years.



The Confidential Committee heard evidence from 24 witnesses, eight male and 16 female, who reported being abused while in foster care. The reports related to 22 foster care placements. The witnesses identified 18 foster families by name and location, four others were referred to by their geographic location. Two (2) of the 18 named foster families were each reported as abusive by two separate witnesses.


The reports of abuse in foster care refer to a 64-year time period between 1931 and 1995, being the years of earliest admission and the latest discharge reported by witnesses. The majority of reports of abuse in foster care refer to placements before 1960. Sixteen (16) witnesses, four male and 12 female, were originally placed in foster care prior to 1960 and 12 of those witnesses, three male and nine female, were also discharged before 1960. Five (5) of the witnesses who reported abuse were discharged from their foster care placements in the 1980s and 1990s.


Seven (7) witnesses, five male and two female, reported abuse in other placements in addition to foster care, including Industrial Schools, Children’s Homes, a special needs school, and a primary school. Witness evidence regarding those accounts is reported in the relevant chapters of this Report.


Twelve (12) of the foster homes reported were in rural locations and 10 were in cities and provincial towns.


The majority of witnesses reporting abuse in foster care were the children of single parents and had scant information about their family background and social circumstances. They generally knew little about their family of origin and were reliant on official documentation for details of their place of birth and early life experiences. This documentation was most often reported to have been obtained through Freedom of Information legislation, family tracing services and other charitable organisations.


Family of origin, place of birth and current residence details are differentiated by gender when there are notable differences; otherwise they are reported collectively.


Twelve (12) of the 24 witnesses reported that they were born in Dublin, 11 witnesses were born in eight other Irish counties and one witness was born outside the State.


Fourteen (14) witnesses reported that their mothers were unmarried at the time of their birth. Three (3) female witnesses reported being the children of extra-marital relationships who were placed in foster care as infants by mothers who reared other children within marriage. A further three witnesses reported not knowing anything about the circumstances of their birth.


Four (4) witnesses reported being placed in foster care in the context of marital separation or parental illness.


Ten (10) witnesses reported having siblings, some of whom they had contact with during their childhood and others who they have only become aware of in recent years through the process of family tracing. Nine (9) of these witnesses reported having siblings in care. Two (2) of those witnesses reported being initially placed from their family homes in the same foster home as their siblings with whom they maintained contact. Five (5) of the witnesses reported that they and their siblings had been placed in out-of-home care because their mothers were lone parents and unable to support them due to their social and economic circumstances.


Eight (8) witnesses had never been able to establish whether or not they had any siblings or other living relatives and six witnesses reported that they had no siblings.


Witnesses had relatively little information about their parents’ occupational status, which in 13 instances was reported as unskilled and in 11 instances was recorded as unknown.


At the time of their hearing the age of witnesses who reported being abused in foster care ranged between 20 and 74 years. Ten (10) witnesses were aged over 60 years at the time of their hearing. A further nine witnesses were aged between 40 and 59 years and five others were under 40 years of age.


At the time of their hearing 19 witnesses were living in Ireland and five were resident in the UK.

  1. Section 1(1)(a).
  2. Section 1(1)(b).
  3. Section 1(1)(c) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act.
  4. Section 1(1)(d) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act.
  5. This section contains some unavoidable overlap with the details provided by seven witnesses who also reported abuse in other out-of-home settings.