Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Sexual abuse


Sr Clarke reported that she had met with the past pupil who was prepared to ‘come forward in relation to allegations against Br Farber’. In the report of the Health Board, two allegations of sexual abuse were recorded against Br Farber. Br Farber did not return to Cabra.


Given that the allegations against Br Farber arose in the course of the investigation into Mr Moore, it seems extraordinary that no similar investigation was conducted into Br Farber by either the Congregation or the State agencies.


In 1994, the Christian Brothers commissioned a review of the management structures, care practices, care programmes, administrative practices, staff selection, training, deployment, supervision and liaison with teaching staff and parents. An interim report was issued followed this review. One of the issues identified in the report was the lack of reporting and communication structure between teachers in the School and the care staff of the residential units regarding each child. Problems were also noted in communicating information to parents. It was recommended that the Director of Residential Care should be the conduit for liaising and communicating information regarding children. The report said that there was a lack of information about children on admission to the School. It was also recommended that care staff should have professional qualifications, which was something that had previously been recommended in a 1977 report by the Department of Education on the Education of Physically Handicapped Children. The unsuitability of mixing younger children with older children in residences was also raised. Other recommendations included staff training programmes, care programmes geared towards the particular needs of younger children, and staff counselling. The issue of sexual abuse was not addressed in this report.


A few months later, the Eastern Health Board produced two reports. The first dealt with complaints about staff at the School, and the second with observations on the management and operation of the residential units. The first report catalogued complaints against members of staff that came to light during the course of the investigation, but it did not come to any findings. The second report identified three main issues of concern: (1) matters of sexuality; (2) communication; and (3) child care issues. With regard to matters of sexuality, the Health Board identified that there was a lack of a clear policy in this area, which they felt could ‘only have contributed to the likelihood of sexual abuse occurring in the units’. This was stated, in particular, with regard to sexual abuse amongst the boys. The report noted that there was a ‘sexualised culture within the school in general’ which they felt could only ‘be shifted by radical and ongoing management and training’. They concluded that institutional abuse had occurred in the School.


The report found that there was a ‘tendency to discredit complainants by, for example, alluding to their personal characteristics or family history’ and continued: Even at the highest level there does not seem to be the skills, or the inclination, to suspend judgement, or even to think it possible that the complainants might be telling the truth. A protocol is required whereby guidelines can be followed in a standard way, regardless of the opinions of the staff, or their line management.


The report pointed out the need for sex education and that a modified version of the ‘Stay Safe Programme’ was also needed. Moreover: As is obvious to everyone by now a guideline for identifying and reporting sexual abuse needs to be implemented and should include the teaching as well as care staff.


The investigators commented that the School was a ‘total institution’, in that it was self-sufficient and divorced from its immediate community, but suggested that much could be done to integrate pupils with the local community. The residential units were completely independent of each other, with no sense of integration between them, which resulted in a ‘hierarchy of deafness where one house can feel superior to another house in which the level of disability may not be equal’.


An added complication with the pupils was that some of them, in addition to being deaf, were also mentally handicapped. The report recognised this as an issue and felt that ‘consideration also needs to be given to the separation of “deafness” from “mental handicapped”’.


The report found communication with parents was poor and liaison with them slow and incomplete. Communication between childcare staff and the Director of Care was also unsatisfactory, because it was ‘formalised on an administrative, rather than a professional basis for instance, rosters, leave etc. will be organised efficiently but there is little evidence of professional supervision or professional accountability’. A problem with communication between management and staff was noted, and staff complained of being ‘kept in the dark’. Lack of communication between one shift of staff and another was found. The relationship between the residential and teaching staff was poor. The Eastern Health Board felt that a formal liaison system needed to be established between both staff groups to discuss matters of mutual concern.


Another disturbing problem of poor communication was the high number of staff members, including those at management level, who did not have sign language. The report commented ‘it seems incredible that so few members of staff can use the language of their clients. There ought to be an in-service training programme for staff’. Even senior management did not have training in sign language and needed to use interpreters.


As to childcare generally, the report found that the residential units were very institutional in character, where staff were referred to as supervisors and there was a lack of trust on the part of the boys. The boys perceived the system in the School as unresponsive. There were examples of boys going to senior staff and feeling dismissed. Each unit operated completely independently in terms of discipline, and there was a need for a co-ordinated and harmonised system throughout the School.


It is significant that the review commissioned by the Congregation of management structures and care practices in Cabra failed to address the urgent issue of sexual abuse and sexualised behaviour of children in the School. The Christian Brothers review was conducted during a period of intense investigation, by both the Gardaí and Health Board, of the activities of at least one care worker in the School, which in turn led to the uncovering of a high level of sexual abuse and sexual activity amongst the boys. The Health Board review considered this to be the most important problem facing the Institution. The Health Board blamed a failure on the part of management to ‘suspend judgement’ and even allow for the possibility that complainants could be telling the truth. The failure of the Congregation to address the issue at all would indicate that the Health Board assessment was correct.


In a climate of scepticism and undermining of complainants, sexual abuse will remain undetected. Children were not encouraged to make complaints, and those who did were not dealt with properly. It could not be claimed that there was a lack of understanding of the seriousness of this abuse on the subsequent development of victims or that the matter was seen as simply a moral issue. The allegations against Mr Moore and subsequent investigations highlight numerous problems at that time in the area of reporting and investigating child sexual abuse allegations. When a pupil made a complaint to a staff member about the sexualised behaviour of his House Parent, no action was taken. Steps were only taken when another boy reported an actual incident of sexual abuse that he had witnessed. This case demonstrates failings in communication and co-operation between the various State agencies. When all official bodies had eventually been notified, there was further confusion and delay in dealing with the complaint. There was delay in notifying the parents of the boy who was assaulted and of the boys who were screened. Staff at St Joseph’s were not properly informed. The serious extent of the abuse perpetrated by Mr Moore only came to light when a full investigation was conducted. In the past, Congregations handled allegations by dealing with perpetrators without ascertaining the extent or prevalence of their abuse. When an investigation screened possible victims of abuse, as in this case, it revealed a level of sexual abuse by this man that should have caused deep concern for the system of care in operation. This case has implications for all the allegations of sexual abuse that were so inadequately dealt with over the years.


In the mid-1980s, an allegation of sexual abuse was made against Br Boucher, who had worked in the School from the early 1980s. The allegation was made separately to a care worker and to a teacher by a pupil. These two staff members reported the matter to the school Principal, Br Ames, who in turn informed the Provincial, Br Sandler.21 The pupil told the care worker, Mr Kennedy,22 that Br Boucher had fondled his genitals.


The Provincial interviewed the two staff members and Br Ames concerning the allegations. The care worker, Mr Kennedy, stated that he regularly saw Br Boucher go into the boy’s room at night, and vice versa, when the Brother would give the boy biscuits and sweets. The teacher, Ms O’Connor,23 reported that the pupil had told her in class that this Brother had power over him and ‘made him do things of a sexual nature which he did not want to do’.

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