Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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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.


There was no aftercare system in place. He introduced a system, whereby a staff member was allocated to each child. They worked their normal roster, but had specific responsibility for a particular child’s homework, dental visits etc. They then submitted a quarterly report for the Resident Manager on the progress of each child. He moved the office from Group Home A to Group Home B, in an effort to redress the feeling amongst the staff and children that one house was more favoured than the other.


He encountered huge resistance from the senior social worker to his efforts to review children properly and to the introduction of fostering. He also encountered interference from the former Resident Manager, as outlined above.


Ms Linehan and Ms Waters subsequently worked under Mr Lloyd. They described the contrast between him and Sr Lucilla. The changes brought about by the new manager resulted in proper structures being put in place; training for staff improved; regular staff meetings were held; and the children were much happier, safe and more settled.


The Congregation’s submission that this witness had a tendency to overstate the degree of his own contribution was unfounded. Mr Lloyd was an enlightened and progressive Manager, who transformed the working conditions for staff in the group homes and created a secure environment for the children.


Sr Callida was appointed as Resident Manager to Group Home A in the late 1970s, and the problems identified by the former staff members who gave evidence to the Committee were apparent almost immediately. In particular, Sr Callida’s drinking became known to the Community in the convent in the year following her appointment, but nothing was done to ensure the safety and protection of the children in her care.


Sr Rosetta was Resident Manager of Cappoquin for two years in the 1970s, and she appointed Sr Callida as her successor. Sr Callida was a young Sister who had worked in the group home for some years prior to her appointment. She had completed the childcare course in Kilkenny in the mid-1970s, and was a secondary school teacher by profession. She was, in short, an ideal candidate to take up the position of Resident Manager, and appeared to have all the attributes necessary to make a success of the job. However, there were fundamental flaws to her character that caused major problems in the School: she was not a good manager/administrator, and she had very poor communication skills. These flaws were exacerbated by her relationships with two members of the Community that prevented proper monitoring of her behaviour and a long-standing problem of alcohol dependency.


The problems caused by Sr Callida’s personality were obvious to any observer of the group homes, and yet the Sisters in the Community in Cappoquin failed, for over a decade, to act to protect the children in her care, who were traumatised and neglected as a result.

  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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