Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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She described an occasion soon after the appointment of Sr Serena as Reverend Mother to Cappoquin: I remember that day, Sr Serena had just started, she was just made Reverend Mother and she had visited Group Home B that evening, we arranged that she come and have tea with the kids and staff and Sr Callida came in that evening. The kids had just left the table and she came in and she was clearly under the influence of drink when she came in.


She did not discuss Sr Callida’s obvious intoxication with Sr Serena at the time. It was not an isolated incident, because she had witnessed Sr Callida’s intoxication on other occasions. She said that the staff and children discussed Sr Callida’s drinking with her and amongst themselves, and that it was a problem throughout Sr Callida’s time there, ‘No, I don’t ever remember a time when it wasn’t a problem’.


The problems continued, and both staff and children were unhappy. She described how it had an impact on the children at the time: Kids, they could get high and you know, you felt you had no control. Because everybody was kind of – everybody was upset and there wasn’t consistency from management down, you hadn’t the consistency. The staff were young and they were going to college and doing exams ... and things like that.


Eventually, in the late 1980s, Ms Waters wrote a long and detailed letter to Sr Callida, raising a number of points regarding the care of the children, staff communications, timetables and rostering, and general management issues: I had to do something and I knew the right way to go through it first, I couldn’t do anything, without sending a letter to Sr Callida, she wasn’t willing to listen to me. The next thing was to send her a letter. I put an awful lot – I thought about maybe there was 12 months thinking about that, you know. I put an awful lot of thought into it.


She requested a meeting to discuss the matters raised in her letter. She did not get a response to her letter, and no meeting was forthcoming. Sr Callida appeared insulted that she would make such a request, and her relationship with Sr Callida deteriorated further.


She then contacted the Reverend Mother, Sr Serena, in the convent, and again raised the issues she had highlighted in her letter to Sr Callida. She told the Committee: eventually I got a meeting. I went to Sr Serena and we met, Sr Serena, Sr Callida and I, we met in the office in Group Home B. But it wasn’t a successful meeting, because Sr Callida, she did a lot of crying and she was going to open the door and a few times Sr Serena said to her, "Callida, come back and sit down". It came to nothing, we got nowhere.


Sr Serena then held a staff meeting, where some of the staff members who had been complaining did not support Ms Waters and so, according to Ms Waters, Sr Serena felt she could not take the matter any further.


Ms Waters said, ‘I just couldn’t stick it any longer, I couldn’t cope any longer’ so she went directly to Sr Viola15 who was the Provincial and the person to whom Sr Serena was ultimately accountable. She raised the contents of the letter she had written to Sr Callida with Sr Viola. Sr Viola came to Group Home B a month later and interviewed all the staff who, this time, were prepared to confide in her. Her findings resulted in the dismissal of Sr Callida.


The only conclusion that can be drawn from the picture painted by these witnesses is one of a complete breakdown of communication between management and staff. Management structures, timetables and proper rostering were simply not in place. This had a detrimental effect on the daily lives of the children.


This disorganisation was confirmed by the evidence of Mr Lloyd,16 Resident Manager from the early 1990s. He described what confronted him when he arrived to replace Sr Callida. He found the buildings were very run down. Lots of very young children were in the Centre. Few, if any, records were kept of the children. The financial records were in disarray. The previous Resident Manager had allowed children to sleep in her bedroom. This practice was absolutely inappropriate, and he considered there were no circumstances in which a young person should ever stay in a staff member’s room. Children and staff told him that children had been slapped regularly and inappropriately. When he first arrived he witnessed a staff member slapping a child and immediately banned the practice. The centre was chaotic; there were staff shortages, impossible rosters and very low morale. Relatives would turn up drunk. There were no boundaries for the children and they had no structure in their daily lives. He set about dealing with the problems.


Mr Lloyd brought a new perspective to childcare in Cappoquin. He was concerned at the number of children who remained in care all their lives and for whom no alternative was looked for or provided: Fostering or looking at the extended family or what would have been done. Even for long periods of time, you know, okay, children have to come into care but they don’t have to stay in care. Young people and young children came into Cappoquin to care and spent their lives there until they were sixteen.


He found that Sr Callida had a close friendship with the senior social worker, who, together with Sr Callida, impeded Mr Lloyd’s efforts to effect change.


The problems were compounded by Sr Callida’s reluctance to disengage from the Institution and the children in it: At first it was she would kind of meet the children coming home from school, just down the road and be speaking to them as they were coming up. She would just sit on the wall. Some of the young people would have felt uncomfortable about that. Another young person, a five year old girl, was being taken out by another nun, Sr Serena. At first what I was aware of, like, she had befriended this young person and would take her for a spin maybe once a week or once a fortnight, down ... to her family home. I subsequently found out that she was picking up Sr Callida on the way, they were meeting. So I had to put a stop to that as well, that access.


He also observed that some of the children were psychologically damaged by the manner in which the previous Resident Manager selected a number of favourites.


Mr Lloyd set about introducing changes. New staff rosters were developed, pocket money for the children was introduced, and the children were allowed out for proper and constructive reasons. He set about getting the younger children fostered out to befriending families. Proper contact between children and their families was introduced and encouraged. He found that some of the children had been in care for far too long. No real attempt had been made to consider when they would leave care. He held meetings with social workers to build up a profile and history of the children, some of whom had no idea why they were in care in the first place.

  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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