In the Rotunda Report for 1945-46 in the section on social services by the almoner, Miss Murphy, another case was summarised as follows: Mrs N developed phlebitis following her discharge from the wards on her seventh confinement and she was advised to rest in bed at home. We were asked to arrange for a district nurse to dress her leg. Her home consisted of one small attic room. There were holes in the floor, the walls were wet and plaster was falling off them. All water had to be carried up from the ground floor. Mrs N was in bed. The head of the bed was against the damp wall and beside an open window. As a result, the baby had developed a cold. Mrs N and her husband and five children – the eldest aged 6 & 12; years lived in this room and slept together on the only bed. In spite of the difficulties, the home was reasonably clean. Mr N, an unemployed cattle drover, was dependent on 18/4 unemployment assistance, 12/6 food vouchers and 5/- children’s allowance pr weekend and his rent was 10/-. Occasionally he obtained a day’s work and earned about £1. In addition the Society of St Vincent de Paul was giving him a food voucher value 4/- per week and the Catholic Social Service Food Centre was giving Mrs N dinner and milk every day. We applied at once to the Corporation Housing Department for accommodation for this family and seven months later they moved into a four-roomed corporation house.
The Department of Health were also giving active consideration to the future of residential child welfare in Ireland, in particular their responsibilities under the Children Acts and sections 55 and 56 of the Health Act 1953.148 On 23rd September 1968, Mr O’Rourke in the Department of Health wrote a memo addressed to Miss Murray149 and Miss Clandillon, the Lady Inspectors of Boarded-out Children. The memo argued that the Department of Health: should, at this stage, review the services, dealt with in this division, which are provided for children who come within the scope of the Children Acts and the relevant provisions of the 1953 Act. What I have in mind is that we should consider the adequacy and inadequacies of the services provided for boarded-out children, those placed in approved schools and those who are at nurse; that we should aim at suggesting improvements which might be made in the existing services or innovations which are required to meet needs that at present are unfulfilled; consider the type of service which will be developing during the next decade or so and which will have to be organised within the framework of the regional service envisaged in the White Paper; consider, in particular, in the context of those regional arrangements, the type of case work which will need to be done at local level and the appropriate nature of the regional and departmental supervision which such services will need and, finally, study the services for which we, in this Department, have responsibility in the context of the total services required by the deprived child in general.
Both Miss Murray and Miss Clandillon provided detailed written responses to the memo and these provide a snapshot of thinking in the Department of Health on the cusp of substantial changes in child welfare in Ireland. Responding to the query as to why the numbers of boarded–out children had declined over the previous decade, Miss Murray attributed it to introduction of legal adoption, the continuing emigration of unmarried mothers, and most importantly, the: lack of interest in, or, in some cases, the positive antagonism to the scheme on the part of many health authorities and/or their officials. In Counties Louth and Sligo for example the boarding out scheme is almost non-existent while in some other areas it is barely tolerated. Boarding-out is the Cinderella of the local authority services and there is little informed opinion on the subject at a local level. The emphasis now is on legal adoption which was welcomed by the local authorities for the wrong reasons, viz. as a means of avoiding financial and supervisory responsibility for illegitimate children, and health authority officials have been known to put pressure on unmarried mothers to allow their children to be placed for adoption, even to the extent of refusing any alternative help.150
Miss Clandillon was equally positive abut the after-care employment of boarded-out children in her area, highlighting that ‘among the girls at least ten became nuns, one of whom is now on the missions in Zambia and three are teaching in England.’ Like Miss Murray, Clandillon was positive about the use of boarding-out and suggested that breakdowns in placement were comparatively rare. She observed: the vast majority are illegitimate children who are born in mother-and-baby Homes and who are boarded-out at an early age with a view to being reared as members of the fostering family and of residing permanently with the foster parents. Removals are comparatively rare, the chief reasons being the death of a foster mother in the case of a young child.
More generally, Murray signalled that a new system of child welfare was required and a broad-based commission of inquiry as suggested by O’Rourke were required and that all services for deprived children should be the responsibility of a single Department. The system of institutional care was particularly in need of reform as Murray commented: At present children coming before a juvenile court as a result of poverty, neglect, or minor delinquency may be committed either to an Industrial School or to the care of a ‘fit person’; but a ‘fit person’ within the meaning of the Children Act, 1908, does not include local authority. A local authority however may apply to the court to have a case dismissed and guarantee to take the child into care, but given the present climate of opinion at local level it is not surprising that apart from Dublin this solution is rarely availed of.
The core ideas set out in the correspondence between Clandillon, Murray and O’Rourke were eventually encapsulated in a detailed circular issued in July 1970.155 This circular effectively established the template for childcare services for the next two decades, in particular the shift from residential care to foster care as the primary form of extra-familial care in Ireland and is quoted in full in Appendix 1 to this report to give a sense of the importance of the document.