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Precarious Childhood in Post-Independence Ireland$

Moira J. Maguire

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780719080814

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719080814.001.0001

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Cherished equally? “Outdoor” provision for illegitimate children

Cherished equally? “Outdoor” provision for illegitimate children

Chapter:
(p.48) 2 Cherished equally? “Outdoor” provision for illegitimate children
Source:
Precarious Childhood in Post-Independence Ireland
Author(s):

Moira Maguire

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9780719080814.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter makes an analysis with regard to illegitimate children being raised in their own homes and families. It is noted that illegitimate children born in county homes and maternity hospitals were as likely to go home with their mothers as they were to be boarded out, sent to institutions, or sent overseas for adoption. Illegitimate children were either rejected or marginalized by stepfathers who resented the burden of providing for other men's children. Concerns about boarded-out children being overworked was further reflected in concerns for their school attendance. Some boarded-out children were neglected because of the age and infirmity of their foster parents. Children at nurse were particularly vulnerable to extreme neglect, and thus to premature death. A significant number of illegitimate children were raised with their own families, and they likely had experiences that differed little from working-class children who were born to married parents.

Keywords:   illegitimate children, boarded out, children at nurse, homes, families, adoption

Introduction

As will be seen in later chapters, an examination of official attitudes and responses to infanticide reveals a remarkable degree of ambivalence among clerics, lawmakers, and judges, about their responsibility to protect illegitimate children from harm at the hands of their unwed mothers. But each group was ambivalent for slightly different reasons. The Catholic hierarchy paid lip service to Catholic “sanctity of life” doctrine while tacitly acknowledging that infanticide was inevitable in a country like Ireland, and that the life of an illegitimate child was not valued, by the state or by society, to the same degree that the life of a legitimate child was. The Catholic response to infanticide was primarily concerned with preserving the Catholic Church's moral authority and their hold over female sexuality; concerns about the fate of illegitimate children were secondary at best. Lawmakers also paid lip-service to their responsibility to protect illegitimate children although they, too, were preoccupied by more practical concerns, such as the cost of caring for children, and their desire to be seen as compassionate, in keeping with similar legislation elsewhere in Europe. And the court's ambivalence stemmed from the fact that they had a duty, in theory, to uphold the “sanctity of life” on the one hand, while confronting, on almost a daily basis, the lack of respect that actually existed in Irish society for the lives of illegitimate children.

This ambivalence carried over into the legislative and social policy arenas, where the rights of illegitimate children were murky at best. The Proclamation of the Easter Rising, and the Democratic Programme of the (p.49) First Dáil, vowed to both “cherish all the children of the nation equally,” and to provide all children with the basic necessities of life.1 In spite of this, children generally were disregarded in twentieth-century Irish society, and no child was more disregarded, in policy and practice, than the illegitimate child. Many illegitimate children were consigned to an institutional existence, or to an uncertain and often abusive or exploitative fostering arrangement, because their mothers could not or would not care for them. The arrangements made by the local authorities to care for illegitimate children often had the effect of irrevocably breaking the bonds between children and their biological families, leaving the children with no safety net when, in their teenage years, they were pushed into self-sufficiency. The practices adopted by local authorities typically emphasized the fact that illegitimate children were “unwanted,” not necessarily by their mothers (although sometimes that was the case) but certainly by a society reluctant to accept the financial burden of their maintenance and fearful of their alleged potential for juvenile delinquency and anti-social behavior.

This chapter argues that the Catholic doctrine of the sanctity of human, and especially child, life, and the value that early nationalist lawmakers placed on child life, bore no resemblance to the way that government and society dealt with illegitimate children in the twentieth century. Lawmakers did not always regard children as future citizens to be valued and molded, but often as dangerous and burdensome populations to be confined, regulated, and controlled. The state, with the assistance and cooperation of the local authorities, religious orders, and Catholic philanthropic organizations, used institutionalization, boarding-out, and overseas adoption as the most effective and inexpensive means of controlling potentially deviant, immoral and delinquent illegitimate children.2 But this chapter also seeks to set the record straight with regard to illegitimate children being raised in their own homes and families. Church and state unquestionably conspired to limit the services available to unmarried mothers and their children, and while there was a general social censure of unwed motherhood and illegitimacy, nonetheless thousands of unmarried mothers kept their children, loved them, and raised them as best they could. ISPCC case files, newspaper accounts of industrial school committal proceedings, and boards of health and public assistance minutes all point to the almost heroic efforts some women made, sometimes with the help of family and friends and sometimes entirely on their own, to keep their children. Popular wisdom has tended to suggest that all illegitimate children were shunted into institutions or sent overseas for adoption, but this simply was not the case.3

(p.50) The illegitimate child at home

The received wisdom in twentieth-century Irish history is that all unmarried mothers were shunted into institutions – either magdalen asylums or mother and baby homes – and their babies taken from them and sent to institutions themselves, boarded out in foster homes in Ireland, or sent to the United States for adoption.4 This perception is far from accurate, however. Statistics exist for the number of children who were born outside of marriage in each year of the twentieth century, but no firm statistics document how many of those children remained with their families versus becoming entangled in the bureaucratic system. Limited records survive for three mother and baby homes that maintained unmarried mothers and their children at the expense of local authorities, and these records, although scant, suggest that a significant number of children left these institutions with their mothers:

Table 1

SHHa

SRAb

MHc

1938

Taken by mother

20

47

51

Boarded out

24

20

10

Died

30

54

3

1939

Taken by mother

28

66

40

Boarded out

27

13

8

Died

38

27

5

1940

Taken by mother

30

73

38

Boarded out

11

8

26

Died

17

19

13

(a) Sacred Heart Home, Bessboro, Co. Cork.

(b) Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.

(c) Manor House, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath.

Statistics for the children's home at Pelletstown, Co. Dublin, and Tuam, Co. Galway tell a similar story. In 1941, a total of 218 children from Pelletstown were “placed at nurse, adopted, or sent to other institutions,” (p.51) 28 were boarded out by the local authorities, and 99 were taken by their mothers; 14 children were placed at nurse, etc. from the children's home in Tuam, while 23 were boarded out and the remaining 53 sent home with their mothers.5 Admittedly some of the mothers who took their children with them made private fostering arrangements for them, and it would be virtually impossible to trace such children.

It also should be noted that illegitimate children born in county homes and maternity hospitals were as likely to go home with their mothers as they were to be boarded out, sent to institutions, or sent overseas for adoption. Statistics on the number of able-bodied women and children receiving home assistance further elucidates this point. The number of illegitimate children in receipt of home assistance rose steadily from a low of 499 in 1932 to a high of more than 1,500 in 1945. Meanwhile, the number of legitimate children in receipt of home assistance declined steadily, from a high of 16,199 in 1934 to a low of 7,515 in 1939; in 1945 there were 8,683 legitimate children in receipt of home assistance.6 The rate of births of illegitimate children rose steadily from 1932 to 1945 – in 1932 there were 1,819 illegitimate births, representing 3.2 per cent of all births, and in 1945 there were 2,590, representing 3.9 per cent of all births; it is possible that the increase in the number of illegitimate children in receipt of home assistance was merely a reflection of the increase in illegitimate births.7 It is also possible that some local authorities looked favorably on granting unmarried mothers and their children home assistance, which may have enabled them to keep their children rather than relinquishing custody to local authorities or industrial schools.8 While statistics exist on the number of children boarded out each year by the local authorities in each county, they are virtually useless here because they do not distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate children; neither do statistics on children committed to industrial schools.

Given the patchy nature of statistical data it is not possible to make definitive statements about the number of illegitimate children who remained with their mothers or other family members, versus those who were institutionalized, boarded out by local authorities, or placed at nurse by their mothers or private agencies. But the sketchy statistical evidence at least raises the distinct possibility that more illegitimate children went home with their families than had previously been assumed. The records of the ISPCC, combined with the records of the county boards of health and public assistance, attest to the fact that many illegitimate children were raised in “normal” home and family environments. These sources also provide some insight into the conditions in which illegitimate children lived in their homes and families. In all likelihood the majority of these (p.52) children were treated no differently than children who were born into “respectable” poor families. Perhaps the main difference was that illegitimate children were more likely than their legitimate counterparts to live in abject poverty, primarily because of their limited access, due to financial constraints and inherent bias, to educational, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities.

One issue that faced unwed mothers who kept their children was what would happen to those children when they married, especially when their spouses were not the fathers of their children. By the end of the twentieth century blended families with step-parents and half-siblings had become almost as commonplace as “traditional” families. But in mid-twentieth-century Ireland the most common blended families were those created by the marriage of widows and widowers. Men taking on the financial and emotional responsibility of parenting illegitimate children were problematic from a number of perspectives, and the tensions that arose in families over this issue often left the children themselves in a precarious position. In the absence of statistics it is impossible to know how typical this scenario was, although anecdotal evidence suggests that it was fairly common.9 In some cases, illegitimate children were accepted by their stepfathers and treated like all the other children in the family. Such cases, because they were not problematic, did not come to the notice of the ISPCC and there-fore few if any records even note their existence.

But in other cases illegitimate children were “cast off” by mothers wishing to marry; extended family members only took in these children grudgingly, or they ended up in state care. It was not unusual, for example, for illegitimate children to live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other extended family members even though their own mothers were married and had families with their new husbands. An early example of this scenario comes from the Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes from 1923: “The boy … proposed to be boarded out … was the illegitimate child of [mother], recently married to a man … residing at Raheengrainey. This [man] had been allowed into a cottage rented by [his] uncle who flatly refused to allow [his] wife's illegitimate child in. This child had until then been reared with the mother's sister amidst a houseful of the latter's children and was very sadly neglected.”10 The ISPCC visited a home in County Wexford following a complaint from neighbors about the behavior of a 15-year-old boy. His grandmother raised the boy because his mother did not want him: “I visited as a result of a complaint. This boy has been before the court for stealing stuff from a hotel yard. He has been brought up by his grandmother. His mother was married about three months ago … She does not appear to want him. The grandmother allows (p.53) him to do as he wishes. His uncle … a farm labourer, takes no interest in him. The grandmother is an easy going woman.”11 In this case the child likely ended up with his grandmother and uncle by default, and no one showed any degree of concern for him.

When extended family members died or no longer were willing or able to look after illegitimate children, mothers were either forced to make alternative arrangements for them or, more commonly, reluctantly bring the children into their new families. This scenario was clearly illustrated in a case from 1958 Wexford, when the ISPCC was called by a neighbor to investigate allegations that an illegitimate child was being singled out for neglect and abuse by her mother and stepfather:

I visited as a result of a complaint. It is alleged that the parents take very little interest in their children or home. [Stepfather] is not the father of [the girl] and it is said that both the mother and man do not treat her well. The child lived with the maternal grandmother until about eight months ago when the grandmother died. Her own mother then took her. [The mother] denied there was any difference between the children. [The girl] is very pale but appears to be hardy. She has a burn on her right wrist. The mother said she put her hand on the hot stove.12

The ISPCC inspector conducted a series of supervisory visits over the course of three months and closed the case in November 1958, after concluding that the situation had improved significantly.

The ISPCC was called out to the same family a year later in response to further complaints: “I visited as a result of a complaint … It is alleged that the mother ill-treats this child and treats her badly. Woman denied beating the child and told me that [the child] was wild and fond of telling lies. She alleges that the granny had spoiled the child. I saw no marks on the child.”13 Again the ISPCC inspector conducted a series of supervisory visits, and again the case was closed in August 1960. The ISPCC was called out yet again in March 1961:

I visited as a result of a phone message … stating that this child was being beaten and ill-treated by the mother, and asked that I visit this [morning]. [The mother] was at home. Man was at work. Woman denied that she ill-treated her illegitimate child at any time and could give no reason why people would allege such things. She gave me permission to see and talk to her child in the presence of a nun. I met [the nun] and the sister who teaches [the child]. The teacher never found any trace of beatings on the child who answered all my questions and did not give me the impression of being cowed. I arranged to have the child examined by the school medical officer today. [The child] is not [her stepfather’s] daughter.14

This last case was closed in August 1961, and there do not appear to be any additional reports on this child or family. It is difficult to believe that (p.54) neighbors would complain, on three separate occasions, about the child's treatment if, in fact, she was not being mistreated.

As bad as conditions were for some illegitimate children in their own homes, ISPCC case files also attest to mothers who struggled to raise their children in a “normal” family environment. In October 1958 the county medical officer in County Galway solicited the help of the ISPCC in effecting the discharge of a six-year old illegitimate child from the county hospital. The child had been admitted to the hospital two years previously for an unidentified illness (given the duration of treatment it is possible that he was being treated for turberculosis), but had been “fit for discharge” for over a year. The CMO hoped that the ISPCC could persuade the mother to take her child, or to make alternative arrangements for him. The child's mother explained that she was anxious to take the child, and that her husband was willing to take the child, but they did not have suitable accommodation to meet the needs of their growing family. The family obtained a county council house in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, and the boy was removed from the hospital and reunited with his family in December 1959.15

In 1950 a 5-year-old child, who had been boarded out in Wexford town, was returned to his mother, then living and working in London. The mother sought the ISPCC's help in transferring the child to London and paying the cost of his travel.16 The child had originally been placed in a private arrangement and his mother paid a weekly sum towards his maintenance. It seems that she intended the arrangement to be temporary, until she could find work in London and save enough money to be able to support herself and her son. The NSPCC in London advised the ISPCC that they did not think the mother could care for the child given that she also had three young children already living with her. Ultimately, however, the child was returned to his mother and presumably lived a “normal” life with his family.

The ISPCC, by its nature, dealt with families at times of crisis and dysfunction. It is not surprising, then, that ISPCC case files document a grim and dreary existence for Ireland's poorest children. And the lives of some illegitimate children were particularly grim and dreary. They could be shunned and mistreated by their families and communities. Their mothers often had few employment prospects and likely lived on the margins of society, relying on the largesse of family and friends or, in rare circumstances, home assistance. ISPCC inspectors could be intemperate in their criticism of the men and women who came under their notice, often describing poor mothers and fathers as “lazy” and “useless.” They were even more strident in their condemnation of unmarried mothers, and it is clear they assumed that the poor circumstances in which illegitimate children lived (p.55) were due in large part to the moral intransigence of their mothers. There is no reason to believe that the views of ISPCC inspectors differed from “respectable” Irish society as a whole. These attitudes inevitably shaped the experiences, and quality of life, of many illegitimate children.

Many ISPCC inspectors were particularly critical of women who had more than one illegitimate child, and they were often reluctant to help such women. This attitude was abundantly evident in a 1957 case from Co. Wexford: “I visited as a result of a complaint. The mother gave birth to her third illegitimate child a week ago. The baby was very weak and small. The mother refused to go into Hospital and it was feared the baby would die. I visited this a.m. thinking the mother and baby was still at home only to find that they went into hospital yesterday. The mother is of a low mentality and cares very little for her children.”17 This family had just over £1 per month with which to feed, clothe, and house five people. There is no question that the mother's “moral intransigence” had an impact on her children's quality of life, because she had to support three children on children's allowances and meager home assistance, and because people who might otherwise have been charitably-minded would not be inclined to help a woman with three illegitimate children. But the fact that the ISPCC readily dismissed this woman as a moral reprobate made the lives of her children that much more difficult; their well-being was all but lost in the ISPCC's strident value judgments.

Another ISPCC inspector was similarly contemptuous of an unmarried mother with three children in 1960 Wexford: “I visited as a result of a complaint. It is alleged that this unmarried mother pays very little attention to her children or home. Her eldest [daughters] are working. She gets their wages but wastes it. The youngest child is poorly clad and unwashed. The home leaves much to be desired. Some slates have been blown off with the storm and the rain comes in through the upstairs room. Told woman I would see the housing officer.”18 In spite of the fact that the house was in very bad repair, and that the mother had only £1 per week with which to house, feed, clothe, and educate her children, no action was taken to improve the family's material circumstances. The ISPCC inspector likely believed the mother wasted her children's wages and thus was not worthy of assistance. In refusing to aid the mother, however, the ISPCC also refused to help her children.

A case from 1953 Wexford reinforces the judgmental attitude evident in ISPCC reports. The ISPCC was summoned to the house of an unmarried mother living with her 4-month-old child, her mother, and her married sister; on arrival the inspector found the child to be “undernourished and sickly.”19 According to the report: “The mother lives in with the maternal (p.56) grandmother. There is another married sister staying in the home, and it is alleged that the house is visited by strange men. The maternal grandfather is living apart from his wife … and again it is alleged that his wife and two daughters ran him away. The mother of this child is a lazy useless young woman and does not seem to take much interest in her child. She spends her evenings and nights walking the streets of Gorey.”20 In branding the mother as “lazy” and “useless,” and assuming that the women of the house drove their men away, the ISPCC inspector decided that the family was not worthy of help and took no action to help the child even though he appeared to be “undernourished and sickly.”

Statistics document the number of illegitimate children born in a given year but not the number of children who were raised in their own homes by their own families. The available data on mother and baby homes show that a substantial percentage of women took their children home with them and intended at least to try to care for them. In many respects the children who were cared for by their own families likely had the same kinds of experiences as other children of their age and socioeconomic background. But they also faced challenges that other children might not have faced. In some cases children were “hidden away” by families who were ashamed of them. In others, illegitimate children were either rejected or marginalized by stepfathers who resented the burden of providing for other men's children. Additionally, available evidence suggests that some mothers eventually gave up and had their children committed to industrial schools. They may have given up because of destitution, because of the rejection of family and friends, or simply because they no longer wished to be saddled with the burden of caring for a child.

Boarding out

The boarding-out scheme was first introduced in Ireland under the Irish Poor Law Amendment Act (1862); this act allowed local authorities to board out with local families children who otherwise would be maintained in workhouses.21 The plan was rooted less in a growing awareness of the benefits of family, rather than institutional, rearing for children than in the desire to clear workhouses of children (based on the belief that work-houses were little more than training camps for juvenile delinquents) and reduce the overall cost of caring for illegitimate children. The boarding-out system was re-affirmed by the Irish Free State under the 1924 County Boards of Health (Assistance) Order, which represented an extensive overhaul of the Irish poor law system, and the Public Assistance Act (1939). In the absence of statistical data it is impossible to say definitively that (p.57) the majority of children who came into the boarding-out system were illegitimate. However, the reports of Department of Health inspectors suggest that this was the case. The majority of these children likely were born in county homes, the children's homes in Tuam, Co. Galway or Pelletstown (Dublin), or one of the handful of mother and baby homes throughout the country that were approved for the reception of local authority cases.22 Parental consent was necessary, technically, to board out children, although such consent was easily dispensed with if the mother could not be traced or was deemed to be “unfit.” In the overwhelming majority of cases, local authorities were responsible for the entire cost of caring for children, although a small percentage of unmarried mothers made modest contributions toward the maintenance of their children.

From 1922 responsibility for overall administration of the boarding-out system fell to the Irish Department of Local Government and Public Health (renamed the Department of Health in 1947). There was no immediately discernible shift in policy at this time, although as the years went by Department of Health inspectors of boarded-out children increasingly voiced the view that boarding out was preferable to an institutional existence. This was particularly true for illegitimate children who otherwise would have no hope, and thus no experience, of a “normal” family life. Indeed, this view was articulated by the Department of Health's inspector of boarded-out children in their very first report, published in 1925:

It is believed that the successful upbringing of the children would best be achieved by having the children individually cared for in the families of the respectable poor. The requirements of home life supply the means of cultivating natural affections, self-reliance and the perception of the duties of everyday life, which are invaluable towards the development of the children into normally minded adults. In the home life under the boarding-out system strong ties of affection spring up between the child and the members of the family with whom it lives. Where the homes of foster parents are situate in rural localities the children are reared in healthy surroundings and have opportunities of acquiring training and experience suitable to them in after life. It is not unfitting that they might for the most part become absorbed in the agricultural industry.23

Similar arguments were made repeatedly in reports submitted by the inspectors of boarded-out children to the Minister for Health – reports that were intended never to see the light of day. (It should be noted that in spite of their preference for boarding out over institutionalization, Department of Health inspectors did not intend that boarding out would facilitate upward social mobility. Rather, it showed poor children their place in the social hierarchy, and helped keep them there.)

Various politicians echoed the views of the Department of Health inspectors, although their concerns were of a more practical nature. In the (p.58) debate on the Children Bill of 1940, T.D. Allen voiced his belief that local authorities often showed preference for institutional care rather than boarding-out for the children in their charge, and that in the long run this policy was not cost-effective:

According to the local taxation accounts, local authorities contributed, in the year 1938–39, £39,000 for boarded-out children and children at nurse. In the same year, they contributed £54,000 odd for children in reformatory and industrial schools. The vast majority of children comprised in these categories are similar in type. My objection to committing to industrial schools is that, when the time comes for these children to leave the schools, they are very often waifs and strays and do not fit into the community. Many of them will never fit into rural life. If those children … were taken in hand and boarded-out amongst the rural community … they would cost no more than they do under the present system and they would fit into the life of the community later on and be good citizens.24

For this politician, as for many others, the main concerns were pragmatic. They advocated the cheapest method of care, but they were also concerned that illegitimate children grow up to “fit in” and be “good citizens” – in other words, that they do not descend into delinquency and crime and become even heavier burdens on state resources. But while Department of Health inspectors mentioned the importance of boarded-out children “fitting in,” they were concerned primarily with the children's physical and emotional well-being.

The boarding-out system was overseen at the central government level by the Department of Health, which had overall responsibility for establishing the regulations under which the system was administered, and conducting annual inspections of all of the children boarded out throughout the country. The day-to-day administration of the boarding-out system fell to local authorities at the county level; they were expected to implement Department of Health regulations and to conduct monthly inspections of boarded-out children under their care, but otherwise they had a fair degree of latitude in how the boarding-out scheme operated in their districts.25 As a result, the amounts paid to foster parents varied from one county to another, as did the inspectional regime. The task of inspecting boarded-out children fell, depending on the local authority, to home assistance officers, public health nurses, or infant life protection visitors. But available evidence suggests that, no matter who conducted the inspections, in most counties the inspectors failed in their duties. Inspections typically were carried out sporadically or not at all, were cursory in nature and as a result hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of children fell through the cracks. In some cases it took inspectors years to discover that a boarded-out child had died or been sent by the foster parents to an industrial school. (Foster parents did not have the legal authority to seek the committal of foster children, (p.59) but this did not prevent some of them from doing so.)

Department of Health regulations required that children who came under the care of local authorities and were deemed “suitable” be boarded out rather than sent to industrial schools or other institutions. However, the records of the various local authorities indicate that only a fraction of the children who were “suitable” were, in fact, boarded out; the remainder were maintained, at the expense of local authorities, in county homes, industrial schools, and other institutions. The local authorities often argued that they simply could not procure enough foster homes to accommodate all of the children who came into their care. In reality, however, local authorities preferred to spend the extra money maintaining children in industrial schools because, although it cost more in financial terms, it cost far less in terms of human resources. It was easier to send children to industrial schools than to expend the time and energy necessary to solicit applications, inspect potential foster parents and foster homes, and keep regular tabs on boarded-out children. It is clear that some of the men and women responsible for conducting the inspections of foster homes found the duty onerous and burdensome, and often shirked their responsibilities even as they reported that they had conducted the required inspections.26 As a result, hundreds if not thousands of children died, were sent to industrial schools, or were exploited, neglected, or abused by their foster parents. In short, although the boarding-out system under Irish administration was motivated, in part, by the desire to raise “unwanted” children in as normal a family environment as possible, the way the system was administered was guided more by the narrow agendas and self-interests of local authorities and home assistance officers than by the interests of the children themselves.

The tendency of many local authorities to opt for institutionalization rather than boarding out often caused friction between themselves and the Department of Health, to the point that successive Ministers for Health were compelled to remind the local authorities of their duties along the lines of the following entry from the Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes:

Read circular letter dated 2nd September, 1924, from Local Government Department, impressing on Boards of Health the advisability of boarding out in suitable homes in the rural districts such children as were being maintained in County Homes and were proper cases for boarding out. Suggestions as to suitability of homes should be sought from Assistance Officers and others likely to have useful sources of information. The appointment of a Ladies Committee to act in conjunction with the Board and its Assistance Officers might also be of advantage. It could be arranged, if so desired, that a Lady Inspector with specialist knowledge and experience would be available to attend meetings and to afford advice or assistance.27

(p.60) These kinds of reminders were issued repeatedly by the Department of Health in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and typically were met with the same defeatist response on the part of the local authorities: that in spite of their best efforts they simply could not secure a sufficient supply of good foster homes for all of the children in their care. The following plea, from the Leitrim superintendent assistance officer (SAO), is fairly typical in this regard: “The difficulty we are confronted with is that there are no suitable people prepared to board out children. Repeated advertisements have been inserted in the local press for foster parents but except for some applications for children of 10 to 12 years the response is negligible.”28 This entry appeared in the 1946 minutes, and it is possible that wartime austerity made local authorities’ efforts to secure good foster homes more difficult. But similar disclaimers were made, throughout the country and throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, suggesting a more endemic pattern of apathy and indifference on the part of local authorities.

There is, however, some grain of truth to local authority claims about the difficulty of securing suitable foster homes. Evidence suggests that some foster parents (it is impossible to know how many) accepted foster children solely for the maintenance grants that were paid to them by the local authorities, or for the work the children could do. They requested older children who would be “useful” around the house, rather than younger children who required more care and supervision. But it is also true that the local authorities, and particularly the home assistance officers, resented the burden that boarding-out placed on them. Although it was cheaper, financially, to maintain local authority children in foster homes than in industrial schools, in the long run many local authorities believed that the cost was much higher, in terms of both financial and human resources, because of the inspectional responsibilities that went along with the boarding-out system. Many local authorities were unwilling or unable to pay qualified people to carry out the inspectional regimes that were required of them by law. Children, and especially illegitimate children, were not a political or economic priority for them.

The failure of local authorities to carry out their responsibilities to boarded-out children came under public scrutiny in the mid-1940s, after a foster mother in County Westmeath was convicted of assaulting and illtreating a boarded-out child in her care and fined £10.29 The case was publicized in the national media and prompted a scathing editorial in the local newspaper, the Westmeath Examiner, as a result of which the Westmeath County Council launched an investigation into the matter. The newspaper editorial was critical of both the county council's investigation, and of the way the local authorities carried out their responsibilities: “The report (p.61) of the Committee of Inquiry into the treatment of boarded-out children will be submitted to the County Council at its next meeting on Monday week. It exonerates all the officials concerned in the sad case … At the same time there is a tacit admission that supervision of the homes to which these children are entrusted is not as frequent and strict as it ought to be.”30 The editorial recommended both the appointment of women as visiting officers, and an increase in the maintenance allowance paid to foster parents, which the editorial called “ridiculously inadequate for the proper maintenance of a child.”31 The editorial concluded with a stern reminder to local authorities of their responsibilities to boarded-out children: “The Council has a responsibility which it cannot shift entirely to its officials. Its members are the guardians of these little ones. This … case has done useful service on concentrating attention on the duties of those who are to look after children who are deprived of the advantage of parents and who are entitled to a fair start in life.”32 This was one of the rare occasions when public commentary cast an unfavorable light on the boarding-out system, but this negative attention appears to have had little effect on how the system was administered.

One might assume that the children under local authority care who were “lucky enough” to be boarded out rather than sent to industrial schools enjoyed a more stable and “normal” existence than those reared in industrial schools. The reports of the inspectors of boarded-out children indicate that some boarded-out children did become fully integrated into their foster families, and continued to be part of those families even after the boarding-out allowance ended when children reached fifteen years of age. But there is ample evidence to suggest that a significant number of boarded-out children were, at a minimum exploited, and sometimes neglected and abused as well. This stemmed in part from the poor inspectional regime in many counties, but also from the fact that many foster families took in boarded-out children solely for the maintenance grants, or because the children would be useful to them in some tangible way. In effect, many foster families viewed boarded-out children as little more than unpaid servants and not as vulnerable children who needed love and guidance to usher them into healthy, stable adulthood.

A case from 1944 clearly illustrates the exploitation that some children experienced in foster homes: “On the day of inspection this child had five teeth extracted at school and had been sent home early as the day was extremely cold. Despite this however his foster mother had no scruples about sending him on a message to a shop at a considerable distance from his foster home, where I found him later in the evening. He was small and thin, was poorly clad, and looked cold and pale. I do not think that this (p.62) child is well or kindly treated.”33 It is surprising that the inspector did not recommend removing this child to a new foster home. But given the treatment described in the inspection report, it is unlikely that this child had a stable and happy future to look forward to.

The primary safeguard against exploitation, neglect, and abuse – the inspectional regime – often failed to protect children because of the haphazard way in which it was carried out. In her report on children boarded-out in County Leitrim, the Department of Health inspector noted: “There is every reason to believe that the assistance officers’ visits of inspection to the foster homes are extremely irregular. The condition of many of the homes is ample proof that the foster parents do not anticipate or expect regular visits of inspection.”34 It is clear from the Department of Health inspector's observation that foster parents not anticipating visits from assistance officers was an ongoing problem and not one of recent origin. An even more strident criticism was made of the inspectional regime in Co. Longford: “The Assistance Officers are extremely careless in the matter of regular inspections, in many cases only visiting the children once or twice a year. It should be noted that the regulations stipulate that the children should be visited monthly, and a serious view should be taken of laxity in this respect.”35 Although Department of Health inspectors repeatedly highlighted the lax inspectional regimes conducted at the local level, the Department of Health did little to hold local authorities accountable, or to improve the overall administration of the boarding-out system.

Miss Kennedy O’Byrne, another Department of Health inspector, voiced her concerns about the inspectional regime in many counties. She suggested, however, that it was not the fault of individual assistance officers but, rather, was a systemic shortcoming that could only be fixed with a complete overhaul of the system:

In my opinion the time has come to make a radical change in the whole system of supervising boarded-out children. The duty of this supervision is at present largely in the hands of the Assistance Officers, mostly elderly men, who have innumerable other duties heaped upon them especially since the emergency [the Second World War]. Under the circumstances it is impossible for these Officers to make more than a hurried and superficial monthly visit to those boarded-out children. Even with the very best intentions it is in my opinion impossible for the Assistance Officers to make the right kind of inspection, which is essentially a woman's job: viz, examination of the child's person, hair, clothing, bedding and general circumstances, combined with a certain intuition to discern whether the child is not below par in health and not unduly suppressed.36

In short, Kennedy O’Byrne assumed that only a woman could do the job of inspecting boarded-out children effectively; since the majority of assistance officers were men, it seems that the local authorities did not share her (p.63) views and concerns.

The effects of sub-par inspectional practices are evident throughout Department of Health inspectors’ reports. Miss Clandillon, a Department of Health inspector, reported on a 10-year-old girl who was in the care of a foster parent in County Wexford. In this report, dated March 1951, Miss Clandillon stated: “I found a marked lack of affection for the child in this home and too great a stress was laid on her usefulness … This child has a sister, aged seven, who is at present in an institution, and for whom she appears to have a great affection. I consider it would benefit both of these little girls if a foster home could be found for them where they could live together.”37 Three years later Miss Clandillon again reported on this girl, who was still in the same foster home: “At my last inspection I recommended the removal of this child. There appeared to be a marked lack of affection for her and too much stress was laid on her usefulness. I now find that the foster mother is not anxious to keep the child, and I suggested to the Children's Officer that a home might be sought for her in Wexford where she could attend a secondary or vocational school.”38 By the time of this last report the child was approaching the age at which local authorities ceased to pay boarding-out allowances (which may have been the reason the foster mother no longer wished to keep the child). The paper trail on this child ended with the 1954 report; it is possible that the child was sent to an industrial school so that she might learn a “useful” skill. The implication of the inspector's reports was that the inspectors failed in their duties, and as a result this child's future prospects were more limited than they might have been had the local authorities heeded the Department of Health inspector's advice earlier on.

Another shortcoming of the boarding-out system was that it was driven, in large measure, by purely mercenary or pragmatic concerns on both sides. The local authorities were often more concerned with the financial bottom line than with what was in the best interests of children, and many foster parents were driven solely by what the foster child offered, in terms of the boarding-out allowances or their labor. In her report on boarded-out children in Kildare in 1950, Miss Clandillon gave the following assessment of a prospective foster family: “[This couple] gave as their reason for wanting a child that they needed help on the farm. They would not take a child under 9 years and would have preferred a boy of about 12. I would not recommend the home because the attitude of the proposed foster parents, the lack of suitable accommodation and because it appeared that any child placed in this home would be used as an unpaid help.”39 In her 1955 report Miss Clandillon reported on another foster home: “The foster mother … was anxious to know how soon the child could leave school and whether (p.64) she would be permitted to keep him at home from time to time to help on the farm.”40 In another 1955 report Miss Clandillon noted that a boy had run away from his foster home because his foster mother overworked him. He returned to the home of his relatives, who took him to an industrial school in Tralee. The boy expressed the wish to stay in the industrial school rather than being forced to return to the foster home.41 (It is noteworthy, in light of complaints by former industrial school residents, that this child preferred the institutional regime to the foster home that was, at least in theory, supposed to provide him with a normal family environment.)

An extreme example of foster children being exploited appeared in the 1957 report of the Donegal superintendent assistance officer in relation to two boys boarded-out on a farm. The inspector interviewed the foster parents and the boys as well as teachers and neighbors. The neighbors, who were somewhat reluctant to speak openly about the situation lest it cause tensions with the foster parents, nonetheless offered their assessment of the situation: ”they had often heard the boys crying loudly and they often complained of being beaten. They did … state that these children were overworked, that they did all the work on the farm, plant all the potatoes and save the turf, milk, feed and look after cows, calves and hens and were not treated as children should be and both neighbours further said that the children should have been removed long ago.”42 Both neighbors reported that the foster mother's 56-year-old son was in poor health and did nothing around the farm, which suggests that the foster parents took in the two boys solely for their labor. (And the fact that the foster mother's son was 56 years of age suggests that she was probably well into her seventies, and well above the stipulated age for fostering children.) Although the Department of Health inspectors often recommended the removal of children from homes where they were being overworked or exploited, the available evidence suggests that their recommendations were not often heeded.

Concerns about boarded-out children being overworked was further reflected in concerns for their school attendance. The Department of Health inspectors of boarded-out children frequently voiced concerns about the poor school attendance records of many boarded-out children; they suspected that many boarded-out children were being kept home from school to work. Assistance officers responsible for inspecting boarded-out children were required to submit quarterly school attendance records, and it seems clear from these records that many foster children were kept out of school to work in various capacities for their foster parents. A case from County Offaly clearly illustrates official concern in this regard. In all cases where the department thought school absences to be excessive they requested a report from the relieving officer of the reasons for the absence, and if a child was (p.65) absent for five days consecutively he demanded a medical certificate:

The Minister for Local Government and Public Health has had before him Assistance Officer's Reports on boarded-out children, with school certificates for the month of February and he desires to be informed as to the nature of the illness which prevented [foster child], a boarded-out child with [foster mother] from attending school regularly during the month.

The Home Assistance Officer was requested to procure the required Medical Certificate of the illness of [foster child]. This was done and was forwarded to the Department.43

Two years later the department was still concerned about the school attendance of this child and requested a report on the child's health:

Letter from Local Government Department, dated 15/5/28, requesting to be informed of the opinion of the Tuberculosis Medical Officer as to [foster child] state of health immediately it is obtained.

The Secretary reported that he had sent same on the 16th instant, the remarks of the T.M.O. being as follows:

[Foster child], aged 12, is in a well nourished condition, well clad, and in 5th standard in school. He has no pulmonary trouble.44

There was no justification for keeping this child home from school, and a Department of Health official instructed the local authorities to report to the guards (gardaí, or police) if the child continued to be absent from school. A year later, in November 1929, the department was still demanding explanations from the local authorities about this child's school attendance:

From the Local Government Department 11–12–29 pointing out that [foster child], boarded out with [foster mother] was absent from school on nine days in the month, and requesting to be furnished with a medical certificate as to the state of his health.

The Assistance Officer stated that the Department's Inspector [Miss Litster] when on her last visit of inspection, had suggested that in future when this boy be kept from school a certain amount be deducted from the maintenance allowance, as she thought this would induce the foster parent to send the child to school regularly. Adding that a sum of 6/- had been deducted from [foster mother’s] maintenance allowance, in the present instance.45

Although the amount of correspondence between the department and the Offaly board of health and public assistance regarding this particular child was unusual, and spanned nearly five years, the Department of Health's attention to the details outlined in board of public assistance minutes was not unusual. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to wonder why this child was not removed from the foster home given the inspector's suspicions of foster parents’ motives and actions.

In 1933 the Department of Health inspector clearly stated the department's views on the issue of school attendance: “From the Local (p.66) Government Department … in regard to [foster child] with [foster mother], Cloneyhurke, who was kept from school 6 days during the month of June to work, requesting that the boy be removed from his present foster home and boarded-out elsewhere. Stating that if parents require workmen they should employ them and not utilise the services of boarded-out children for whose maintenance they are paid.”46 As it happened this foster mother reported that the child had been kept home from school because he stepped on a nail and could not walk. However, the response of the Department of Health inspector suggests that there was, generally, good cause for concern.

School attendance continued to be a concern for the Department of Health into the 1940s and 1950s, and the fact that their inspectors repeatedly had to remind local authorities of regulations with regard to excessive absences suggests that the regulations were ignored with remarkable regularity. A letter from the Department of Health to the Cork board of health and public assistance in March 1939 inquired as to why no medical certificates were included with reports on one particular child, who had missed seven out of seventeen school days in one month.47 In April 1940 another letter passed between the Department of Health and the Cork board of health and public assistance on this same issue: a boarded-out child had missed ten out of twenty school days in a month, and no medical certificates had been furnished.48 And, again in July 1940 the Department of Health was still reminding the Cork board of health and public assistance about the need to submit medical certificates when boarded-out children missed four or more days of school. The fact that reminders were made with such frequency suggests that the local authority inspectors were not adequately monitoring the school attendance of boarded-out children.

If the life of many boarded-out children was tenuous during their “formative” years, their fate once they reached fifteen years of age – the age at which boarding-out allowances ceased – could be even more uncertain. The lucky minority of children were “adopted” by their foster families in the sense that the families kept them in spite of the fact that the boarding-out allowances ceased.49 The following entry from a 1939 inspector's report illustrates this scenario:

[Foster child] aged 15 years, boarded out with [foster mother], Loughley, Carrigaline. This child is well cared and happy. The foster home is a good one and the foster mother very attached to the girl. Her teacher informed me that she has great talent for needlework. The girl is anxious to go to the technical school in Passage West to be trained in needlework and domestic work. I suggest that the boarded-out period be extended for a further year to enable her to be so trained.50

(p.67) In this instance the inspector recommended that the local authorities continue to pay a boarding-out allowance for an additional year so that the child could receive training that would enable her to support herself in the future. The board of public assistance refused, and the foster mother subsequently declined to keep the girl. A case from 1925 Wicklow had a much happier ending: “the child … boarded out with [foster mother], Ballycullen, would be 15 years old on 18th August next, and might be taken off the list of boarded-out children. [Foster mother], who was a small farmer in comfortable circumstances, wished to adopt the child, as she stated she would not part with her for the world. She loved her as one of her own and would provide for her in future. She asked that the usual outfit be provided the child.”51 This outcome was, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule.

Of course, even when foster parents agreed to keep the children after they came of age, things could go horribly wrong. In 1935 a foster father asked the Offaly board of health and public assistance for permission to retain custody of a boarded-out girl when she reached 15 years of age, and the home assistance officer strongly recommended this course of action: “[Foster father’s] wife died about six years ago, and the girl has become very attached to her foster parent. It is a first class home, and he would strongly recommend that [foster father’s] application be granted. He would also mention that there is another girl in the house aged 18 years whom [foster father] adopted when she was a baby.”52 It was almost unheard of for an unmarried man to be allowed to foster children, especially girls, so this case is extraordinary for that reason alone. But at the same time that the home assistance office was enthusiastically endorsing this foster father, the foster father was charged with sexually assaulting the girl. Extraordinarily, the Minister for Health gave his sanction to the foster child being allowed to remain with this foster father more than two weeks after he had already been arrested and the girl sent to the Good Shepherd magdalen asylum in Limerick.

In the absence of statistics it is impossible to know what number of children continued to be part of their foster families after the boarding-out allowances ceased, and how many were literally pushed out into the world and made to fend for themselves once they reached fifteen years of age. It does seem, from inspection reports, that the children whose foster families refused to maintain them when the boarding-out allowances ceased posed a significant challenge and caused a great deal of worry for Department of Health inspectors. These inspectors were not always convinced that the local authorities did right by former boarded-out children once they came off the boarding-out rolls. In her 1941 inspection report, Department of (p.68) Health inspector Miss Murray noted the futility of boarding children out if their foster parents were only going to give them up once they reached the age of fifteen:

there is on the whole a lack of those ties of affection between children and foster parents which is a feature of the boarding-out in other parts of the country. This is shown by the frequent refusal of foster parents to provide a home for the children after the age of 15 unless the Board continues to maintain them. Recently a girl of 15 was returned to the County Home by the foster parents when payments for maintenance ceased. Nothing is gained by rearing children in foster homes if they are returned to the County Home at the age of 15.53

The solution, according to Miss Murray, was to board children out at much earlier ages and impress on foster parents the extent of the commitment they were required to make. But the concerns expressed by Miss Murray reflected the fact that, for many foster parents, boarding out was nothing more than a financial arrangement.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that while Department of Health inspectors regularly made recommendations like the one above, that local authorities continue to pay boarding-out allowances for an additional year so that a child might obtain further education or training, local authorities typically ignored these recommendations; most likely they did not want to set a precedent that ultimately would cost them money. But a bigger problem was that most foster parents were unwilling to accept responsibility for foster children once the boarding-out allowance ceased. The following case is fairly typical in this regard. A boy and his younger sister were placed in a foster home in County Meath when he was 13 years of age (their previous foster mother had died). The Department of Health inspector reported that: “[Foster child] who will be sixteen shortly has not been attending school regularly in recent months. The foster mother said she is not anxious to keep him and wants to have him placed in employment when he reaches sixteen years. She appears to have very little interest in him but seems to have some affection for the younger child.”54 The boy was not mentioned in subsequent reports, so his fate is not known. One can imagine, given the foster mother's attitude, that he was pushed out into the world with few practical or technical skills with which to support himself and no family or safety net to fall back on.

Even when employment and accommodation were secured for former boarded-out children, there is ample evidence that they were exploited, underpaid, and mistreated by their employers. In 1933 the Offaly board of health and public assistance secured employment for a 15-year-old boy, but the prospective employer refused to pay the boy the wages suggested by the local authorities:

(p.69) From the Department of Local Government … in regard to the hiring-out of [foster child] with [employer] Cloneyquin, Portarlington, pointing out that the wage proposed to be paid to [foster child] namely £6 a year appears altogether too low, and to request that [employer] may be asked to provide the boy with clothes and boots in addition to paying him the wage in question. Mr. Buckley, Assistance Officer to whom this matter was referred, reported that he had called on [employer] and that he will not consent to pay the boy … £6 a year and supply him with clothes and boots, but that he will agree to pay him £5 per annum and supply him with clothes.55

After several months of negotiating with the employer, and shifting the boy from one employment situation to another, he was subsequently admitted to the county home because no other employment could be found for him. This probably began a cycle of sporadic unemployment punctuated by stints in the county home and perhaps, if the boy became desperate enough, even petty crime and imprisonment.

The case of a teenage girl was even more convoluted than the case cited above. When the girl reached fifteen years of age in 1923, her foster mother initially said she would keep the girl even without the boarding-out allowance; she then changed her mind, and the girl and another boarded-out child were moved to another foster home. Between September 1923 and January 1926 this girl was moved to three different foster homes and seven different employers:

When she was 15 years old the Assistance Officer got her a nice situation in Dublin, but when there about a month her employer wrote to say she was unsatisfactory and that she could not keep her. The Assistance Officer asked [employer], Bridge Street, Bri, to give her a trial; as the girl proved useless and unmanageable she also had to let her go. The Supt. Assistance Officer then got her into Baggot Street Convent to be trained for domestic service, but they refused to keep her. She then got her into an institution in Henrietta Street for training servants, and the Sisters there had now written that they could keep her no longer. The Nuns in Gloucester Street had taken her for a trial, but probably she would not be kept there either, and the Supt. Assistance Officer asked for directions as to what should be done. The girl had no home or relatives who would be responsible for her, and she was not eligible for admission to the County Home.56

The girl's fate from this point is unclear, and it is entirely possible that she ended up in a magdalen asylum or perhaps even a lunatic asylum given that she had no relatives and was apparently “difficult” to manage. It is likely that many formerly boarded-out children drifted from job to job, or from one institution to another, because they had no roots, no solid training or education, and no support network to sustain them in hard times.

The circumstances of younger children were not always any more secure than those of children who reached the age at which they came off the (p.70) boarding-out rolls. Foster parents often returned the children entrusted to their care, for a variety of reasons, and this trend reinforces the ulterior motives that many foster parents had in taking on boarded-out children. Not a single report by the Department of Health inspectors was free of comments about neglectful or unsuitable foster homes. Children often were removed from foster homes because of the death of the foster parent, which stemmed from the fact that many local authorities were not all that discriminating in their selection of foster parents. (So, for example, it was not unusual for young children to be placed with elderly foster parents.) The Department of Health inspectors had to remind the local authorities repeatedly that children, especially very young children, should not be boarded out with elderly foster parents; these reminders usually went unheeded.

The age of foster parents was a constant source of worry for Department of Health inspectors. In her 1945 inspection report the Department of Health inspector made this point abundantly clear:

A child should in no case be boarded out with an aged foster mother. There is naturally a great inclination to take this course in cases where a foster mother has already proved herself worthy by successfully rearing a number of boarded-out children, but nevertheless, it is a mistake. A child boarded out with an aged foster mother is likely to suffer neglect through the illness or feebleness of its guardian. Should the foster mother die while the child is young it entails a break with the child's life with consequent disturbance and upset.57

The possibility that boarded-out children would be neglected owing to the age of the foster mother was borne out time and again in the inspector's reports; the following example is typical in this regard: “This child is 5½ years of age and his foster mother is 77. It is inconceivable why the child was boarded out in this home. He was not clean, was very thin, and extremely small for his age.”58 Although this child clearly was neglected, this neglect stemmed not from malice or thoughtlessness, but from the inability of the foster mother, due to her age and infirmity, to care for such a young child. In spite of continued reminders from the Department of Health inspectors about the age of foster parents, however, it seems that local authorities were less concerned than they should have been with the age of the foster mothers, primarily because raising their standards would have meant they had to work twice as hard to find suitable foster homes for the children in their care.

Sometimes boarded-out children were returned because it was “inconvenient” for the foster parent to keep them, as was the case in the following example from 1957 Dublin: “A letter has been received from their foster mother stating that she is going on a visit to England during this (p.71) month and requesting the Board to remove [the foster children] from her care.”59 Both of the girls were sent to industrial schools. In other cases children were returned because they did not “give satisfaction” to their foster parents, which often meant they were unable to do the kind of chores that the foster parents expected of them. Some foster parents appear to have taken children and sent them back to the local authorities with alarming frequency, and Department of Health inspectors generally did not recommend that such foster parents be removed from the list of approved homes. The following case from 1953 Co. Kildare was fairly typical in this regard: “[Foster mother] informed me that she intended to send these boys [aged five and ten years] back to the County Home. She appeared to have no affection whatever for them. She already had three other boys, one of whom had been taken by his mother … and the others sent back to the County Home.”60 Although Miss Clandillon recommended that these two boys be removed from this foster home, she did not suggest that the foster mother be stricken from the list of approved homes.

As previous examples suggest, some boarded-out children were neglected because of the age and infirmity of their foster parents. But age and infirmity were not the only causes of neglect. Department of Health inspectors of boarded-out children often expressed concern generally about the neglect of foster children, which is not surprising given that many of them likely were taken solely for economic reasons. Examples of neglect appeared frequently in the pages of the inspectors’ reports on boarded-out children; the problem, however, was that the local authorities were slow to respond to allegations of neglect, in part because they had such difficulty procuring foster homes that they hung on to the homes they had, no matter how bad those homes might be. The case of two young girls boarded out in Leitrim in the 1940s illustrated this point: “Both these children were badly clad and were far from clean. Their school lunch was entirely inadequate. [One girl] was wearing sandals on the day of the inspection [4th October] and as the day was wet and she had to cross fields on her way to school, her feet were soaking. This foster home was commented on in last year's report but no improvement has taken place in the meantime.”61 This was but one of four instances of obvious neglect noted by the inspector in just this one report. Given the lax inspectional regime already alluded to, it is not surprising either that children were neglected, or that foster parents rarely were censured in any way for their treatment of the children in their care.

A case from 1943 Kerry clearly illustrates the extent to which foster children could be neglected and overlooked in their foster homes: “I found this child almost naked, the only clothing she had on when I saw her was a cotton frock although [the foster mother’s] own two children were very (p.72) well clad. The child did not seem happy and looked suppressed. I advise her removal to a more suitable foster home and foster mother.”62 There were two similar instances of neglect documented in this same report. In 1955 Miss Clandillon expressed concern about the fate of a seven-year-old child boarded out in County Cork:

This little girl is very thin and appeared to be very nervous of strangers. I got the impression that there is not much affection or security for her in this home. [Foster mother’s] sister, married brother and his wife and baby are all living in the home now and it is possible that the child will be relegated more and more to the background. I suggested that the home be carefully supervised and if it is thought that the child would receive more affection in another home that she should be removed.63

And in her 1953 report Miss Clandillon chronicled an extreme case of neglect involving seven children, all of whom were boarded out in the same home (which was against Department of Health regulations, but the local authorities appear not to have been concerned with that):

The foster mother was not at home when I visited but I was told by the other children that the two [foster] children had been removed by their father earlier in the day. The bedding in the room they occupied was very dirty. The baby … was in a cot in the front bedroom. The child was blue with cold and did not appear to have had any attention for hours. The other four children looked healthy but the elder boy has severe strabismus and was not wearing glasses. I consider it very remiss of [foster mother] to go out leaving a child of eight years in charge of the home especially when a baby of only six months had been entrusted to her care.64

This foster mother clearly had more children in her care than she was capable of caring for, and the fact that so many children were in her home in the first place speaks to the haphazard administration of the system.

Another problem that often resulted in the neglect of boarded-out children was the tendency of some foster parents to spend maintenance allowances on themselves and their own families rather than on the boarded-out children in their care. Department of Health inspectors repeatedly raised this concern in their annual reports: “[Foster child] was at home from school at the time of my inspection. He looked thin and pale and had been vomiting for days. The foster mother had not had medical attention for him … I am not altogether satisfied with this foster mother's attitude towards the children. She remarked that she ‘does not make much out of them’ and that if she buys sufficient butter and milk for the children she will have nothing left out of the allowance.”65 Department of Health inspectors also suspected that foster parents did not use the twice-yearly clothing allowances solely for the use of the foster children in their care: (p.73) many foster parents, when confronted, could not account for how they had spent the money. The following entry from the Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes reflected these suspicions:

There is still evidence that sufficient care is not taken to insure that the money allowed for clothing is spent exclusively for the benefit of the child. There is considerable reluctance on the part of some foster mothers to procure them for inspection, and many devises are resorted to, so as to escape compliance with the regulations. A number of bills examined by the inspector did not correspond with the articles of clothing, nor could some of the foster parents produce the items which appeared on the bills.66

In her 1955 inspection of children boarded-out in County Cork Miss Clandillon reported on a 14-year-old girl who obviously was neglected by her foster mother: “She told me also that [foster mother] did not buy clothes for her, and that the dress she was wearing had been given to her by a neighbour.”67 This foster mother clearly did not spend the twice-yearly clothing allowance on the child.

The reports submitted by Department of Health inspectors of boarded-out children document a litany of flaws in administration and inspection and, worse, a sustained pattern of exploitation, neglect, and indifference on the part of local authorities and many foster parents. But there were cases where foster parents literally were saviors for children who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks. For some children, the foster home provided the kind of loving and nurturing environment that their own families could not or would not provide. This is evident, for example, in the inspector's report of an 11-year-old boy who had been in the same foster home since he was four years old. The inspector was concerned that the boy had no supervision from the time he returned home from school until his foster parents returned home from work at 7p.m. But this concern aside, the boy was well treated by his foster parents:

The boy brings a good lunch with him to school and on his return from school he goes into the house where a thermos flask of tea and some bread and butter have been left for him … The boy appeared to me to be well clad, well cared and very happy … he had a good substantial dinner with the family when they returned home … Notwithstanding the apparent lack of supervision of this boy during his after school hours, I do not suggest changing him to another home as in the future he will probably have a chance of being trained as a gardener by his foster father.68

This child seems to have been treated just like the foster parents’ own children, and his future seemed secure.

The depth of affection that foster parents could have for their boarded-out children is reflected in an ISPCC case from 1958 County Mayo. The (p.74) foster mother sought the advice of the ISPCC because she feared her foster son was getting out of control:

[Foster mother] stated she received [the child] 6 years ago when he was 6 years old, he was now 12. She was told he was an illegitimate child … She said in general that the whole family had become very attached to [the child] but there were times when his behaviour was very annoying. He was very disobedient at times, was inclined to retort with cheeky answers and for no reason at all would start shouting and screaming outside the house and would not stop when told to do so. [Foster mother] said he was also very dirty in his habits and personal hygiene as he often dirtied his trousers … [Foster mother] said that [the child] was being bullied at school and blamed for everything that happened. She was however quite convinced of his honesty … and she also said that he was very truthful. Asked if she wanted [the child] removed she said no, not for the present. Perhaps if you give him a good talking to, making him realise that he could be taken away if he does not do what he is told, it may make him change for the better. I told her I would call back some day soon and have a talk with him after school was over.69

Although the ISPCC conducted a series of supervisory visits to the home, the child's behavior did not improve, but the foster mother continued to refuse to give the child up. While there was inevitably a measure of exploitation and abuse that boarded-out children suffered, and they in all likelihood suffered higher levels of abuse and exploitation because they literally had no one to advocate on their behalf, there were also cases where children were treated like the natural children of their foster parents, and even their troublesome behavior would not compel the foster parents to give them up. In this particular instance the foster mother appears to have had an unusual degree of empathy with the foster child, and recognized that his background had an impact on his behavior.

In spite of the “happy endings” occasionally documented in inspection reports, the experiences of boarded-out children generally were mixed. Many boarded-out children were abused, overworked, or neglected by foster parents who regarded them as little more than unpaid servants, and who agreed to accept them in the first place only for the boarding-out allowances and the work they could perform. Even in foster homes where children were not exploited or abused, they likely faced a sense of alienation or isolation because they were not fully integrated into their foster families and they knew they did not belong. Another significant issue for boarded-out children was the uncertainty of their futures. They faced instability, lack of training and educational opportunities, and the absence of a safety net or support network, all of which likely limited their future prospects.

(p.75) Children at nurse

Children at nurse were children who were placed in foster homes under a private arrangement, either by unmarried mothers themselves, or by charitable or “adoption” societies such as St Patrick's Guild.70 Typically these arrangements were of two types: those in which a one-time payment was made for the child and the foster parent agreed to keep the child indefinitely; or those in which a regular weekly or monthly fee was paid, and the foster parent agreed to keep the child only so long as the fee was paid. Even when charitable agencies, rather than mothers, made these arrangements, mothers were expected to make regular contributions to their children's upkeep. These arrangements, although made by private agencies or individuals, nonetheless were governed by the Children Act (1908). Women accepting children “for reward” (i.e. children at nurse) were obliged to notify local authorities within 48 hours. Failure to do so could result in prosecutions under the various Children Acts. The Children Acts also compelled local authorities to make the same monthly inspections of children at nurse as they made on boarded-out children, and Department of Health inspectors also made annual inspections. (These compulsory inspections ceased when a child at nurse reached the age of nine, however, and their fate beyond that point is anyone's guess.) The local authorities were required to post, in public venues throughout their districts, advertisements outlining the provisions of the Children Acts with regard to children at nurse. It is clear from available evidence, however, that the system of administration and inspection was even more haphazard and precarious than administration of the boarding-out scheme, and many children at nurse fell through the cracks or, worse, died because of the poor administrative and inspectional regimes.71

In the absence of firm statistics it is impossible to say with any clarity how many children were placed at nurse or what ultimately happened to them.72 However, board of health and public assistance minutes, especially for Dublin, and the reports of Department of Health inspectors, indicate that these arrangements almost always broke down, mainly because mothers eventually stopped paying to maintain their children, at which point foster parents refused to keep the children. Children in these circumstances ended up in the care of local authorities and were boarded out or sent to industrial schools at local authority expense. Dublin, however, appears to have been a notable exception. The Dublin board of health and public assistance steadfastly refused to accept financial responsibility for children who were placed at nurse under private arrangement (they did, however, meet their statutory obligation to inspect the homes of such children). As a result, children placed at nurse in Dublin often ended up being (p.76) committed to industrial schools by the courts once the financial arrangements fell through, because there were few other options to provide for them.73

In almost every inspection report Department of Health inspectors noted the inept way that the registration and inspection of children at nurse were carried out in each county. Miss Murray's report on children at nurse in Co. Longford in 1944 was typical:

The Children Acts are not administered effectively, and no serious effort has ever been made to enforce the provisions of the Acts. The last notice in connection with the Acts was issued in October 1943 and took the form of a small advertisement in the local press; no posters have ever been issued. There are undoubtedly nurse children in the county who have not been registered, and until a more vigorous attempt is made to locate these children the Acts cannot be said to be properly administered.74

Miss Murray was still commenting, four years later, on the poor record of inspection of nurse children in Longford:

There are now seven children registered as at nurse compared with three at the time of my last inspection. It is most unlikely that this figure represents the total number at nurse in the county and a determined effort should be made to locate all children who are covered by the provisions of the Children Acts. In addition to the issue of quarterly advertisements setting forth the regulations and the penalties for non-compliance, the help of the Assistance Officers, Medical Officers, District Nurses and the Garda should be enlisted … I am not satisfied that inspection of children registered under the Children Acts is either regular or thorough. All the county Public Health Schemes should be at the service of these children, particularly the Free Milk Scheme. On enquiry I was informed that none of the children now at nurse in the county are, or ever have been, in receipt of Free Milk. It is the duty of the Infant Life Protection Visitor (in this case the Assistance Officer) to inform foster mothers of the various Public Health Schemes in operation, and to advise them to take advantage of all available services.75

Not only were local authorities remiss in carrying out their inspectional duties, but they also failed to inform the foster mothers of other schemes of assistance for which they might have been eligible, and that might have improved the quality of life of the children in their care.

Miss Clandillon offered a similar indictment of the system of inspecting children at nurse in Co. Limerick: “There appears to be an extraordinary lack of interest in the welfare of nurse children in Limerick City area and no effort seems to be made to have them registered. In two of the four homes on the register there was also an unregistered child; I can only conclude from this fact that even these four homes are not inspected by the Infant Life Protection Visitor.”76 Reports for Cork were equally bleak: “On (p.77) the returns for 31st March 1949 there were only seven children registered under the Children Acts … The work of inspection has been left to the Assistance Officers and I understand that the County Manager made an order recently appointing them Infant Life Protection Visitors. I fear that this arrangement will effect no improvement in the inspection of the children nor in the keeping of the registers.”77 Part of the problem, as Miss Clandillon acknowledged, was that there were several charitable agencies in Limerick all trying to care for more children than they knew what to do with. They were not as discriminating in their selection of homes as they should have been, and generally there was a disregard for the law amongst these charitable agencies and amongst the women who agreed to take children for reward. There can be little doubt, in these circumstances, that a significant number of children got lost in the system.

Miss Litster was so concerned with the way the Children Acts were administered in the 1940s that she circulated a memorandum within the Department of Health outlining her concerns: “The administration of the Children Acts throughout the country gives cause for grave uneasiness. The acts, except in a few areas, are administered in a haphazard manner. There are two main causes for this: the apathy of the majority of the Local Authorities, many of whom are also practically ignorant of the provisions of the Acts and of the duties devolving on them under the Acts; the method of inspection generally in use.”78 Miss Litster pointed out that while a handful of counties appointed designated infant life protection visitors or public health nurses whose sole responsibility was the administration of the Children Acts, most counties relied on assistance officers – the same, typically male, officers who dispensed home assistance and administered the boarding-out system. Miss Litster articulated in the clearest terms her frustration with this system: “The sole reason for their appointment … would appear to be that as Assistance Officers, they cover a district and are in touch with the people living in it. It would provide as good an argument for appointing the district postman. It is futile to expect that inspections will be properly carried out in such circumstances.”79 Most local authorities assigned inspectional duties on the basis of expediency and frugality rather than on the basis of who was best equipped to perform the tasks involved.

In spite of the frequent and alarmist nature of Department of Health inspectors’ warnings about flaws in the system, there is no evidence of improvement into the 1950s. Many local authorities excused their poor performance on the grounds that the “emergency” (rationing, travel restrictions, etc) during the Second World War made it impossible for them to discharge their duties efficiently. But the systemic nature of the failure existed well before the war started, and it was highlighted again, in most (p.78) damning fashion, by Miss Clandillon in 1959, when no such excuse could be offered:

I wish to draw attention, as a matter of urgency, to the serious position which has developed in North Cork with regard to the inspection of boarded-out children and nurse children … The nurse children were not visited except when the S.A.O. [superintendent assistance officer] wished to check on the children of over nine years in an effort to amend the returns for the half-year ended 31/3/59. The half-yearly returns are never forthcoming when required. One foster mother told me she had not had any inspections since my own last visit in June, 1957. No effort is made to keep the registers of boarded-out and nurse children up to date. In fact, the whole picture is one of neglect and indifference.80

Given that complaints about the system of inspection were made consistently throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and into the 1950s, it is unlikely that it ever improved significantly, and that by 1959 bad conditions had reached a crisis point. Only in Dublin city is there evidence of a concerted effort to administer the system efficiently, and to prosecute those who violated the law.81

Department of Health inspectors were right to be concerned given the seemingly high mortality rate amongst children at nurse. Children at nurse were particularly vulnerable to extreme neglect, and thus to premature death, because there was no incentive on the part of foster mothers to care for them. In fact there was a disincentive, particularly if the foster parent received a lump sum rather than monthly payments. In 1924 the Dublin board of health and public assistance expressed outrage that St Patrick's Guild, a private Catholic adoption society,” placed a child in a home where two children had already died: “[Infant Life Protection Visitor] reports that [foster mother] … has been given care of an infant … 5 months [St Patrick's Guild], although two children in her care died recently in Cork street, all given out by [St Patrick's Guild]. This is contrary to directions of Local Government Board's Circular to Rescue Societies.”82 The death of children placed at nurse continued to be a problem in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In her 1950 report Miss Clandillon blamed the poor inspectional regime for the death of a three-week-old infant in December of 1949:

The foster parents of an unregistered infant … were prosecuted recently for neglecting the child to such an extent that it died. This baby was born in the County Home, Killarney, on 3rd December 1949, was discharged on 16th December … the child was taken to a wretched home in Killarney and was readmitted on the 28th of the same month to the County Home where it died the following day.83

Two children died in Wexford in 1939, but because of poor inspectional practices, the Department of Health was not notified for more than two (p.79) years: “A register of infants at nurse under the Children Acts 1908–1934 is kept by the Secretary of the Board but it is not written up to date and no entries are made as to deaths, removals or so-called adoptions. I found that the lists supplied to me contained the names of two children who had died.”84 It is entirely possible, and indeed likely, that more nurse children died than Department of Health officials were aware of, given shoddy administration and the fact that not all foster parents registered the nurse children in their care.

No countrywide statistics exist for the number of deaths of children at nurse, so it is impossible to make definitive statements about how many nurse children died annually. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that it was a significant problem. The Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes indicate that, in the 1920s and 1930s, at least one nurse child died every month while in the care of a foster parent.85 The reports of inspection of children at nurse in the North Riding district of Tipperary noted that five nurse children died between 1948 and 1953. Admittedly these statistics are sketchy, and on the surface five children in as many years may not seem extraordinary. But when one considers that typically there were less than ten children registered at nurse in any given county, this statistic becomes somewhat more sinister and meaningful.

Conclusion

The state, under the auspices of the local authorities, became responsible for thousands of illegitimate children annually for a variety of reasons. Some children came into their care because their mothers and extended families abandoned them, while others were relinquished by mothers who could not provide for them. Healthy children who could not, for whatever reason, be cared for by their own mothers and families were supposed to be boarded out in suitable working-class foster homes. However, because of a lackadaisical attitude on the part of local authorities, combined with a reluctance on the part of many working-class families to foster children for anything other than monetary gain, many of the children who could and should have been boarded out ended up spending significant portions of their childhood in mother and baby homes, county homes, and industrial schools. Others endured fostering arrangements that could be neglectful, abusive, and exploitative. Available evidence also suggests that a significant number of illegitimate children were raised with their own families, and they likely had experiences that differed little from working-class children who were born to married parents.

What becomes clear from an examination of both the provisions that (p.80) were made to care for illegitimate children who could not be cared for by their own families, and the administration of the various schemes, was that practical and financial expediencies often took precedence over the welfare of the children themselves. Local authorities, who were responsible for funding and inspecting the children in their care, were primarily concerned with keeping costs down. On the surface this would have meant boarding children out with suitable working-class families rather than maintaining them in institutions. In reality, however, many local authorities found the inspectional responsibilities imposed on them to be onerous and burdensome, and they often preferred to maintain children in institutions simply to spare themselves the cost, in financial and human terms, of ensuring that all of the children in their care were well treated and being suitably prepared to provide for themselves eventually. This attitude is most clearly evident in the way the inspections of boarded-out and nurse children were actually carried out. These inspections were supposed to be carried out on a monthly basis by individuals designated by the local authorities. In reality, however, inspections were carried out haphazardly and were cursory at best. Children got lost in the system – it is impossible to know how many children suffered this fate or what ultimately became of them.

It is also clear that the various parties who were responsible for administering the system of care, and providing for children in care, were not on the same page in terms of priorities and expectations. The Department of Health held overall responsibility for children who came into state care, and their inspectors did their best to advocate for children who had no one else to advocate for them. But the inspectors’ recommendations and views were often overshadowed by the local authorities, who were concerned only with how much money they spent providing for children in care, and industrial school resident managers, who were spurred by both financial and moral considerations to lobby for institutional (and specifically industrial school) care. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some children literally became pawns in the conflict between and amongst the Department of Health, the local authorities, and the resident managers, and that each party was more concerned with advancing its own agenda than with ensuring the health and well-being of the children who, for a variety of reasons, did not enjoy the love, care, and protection of biological families.

Notes

(1) Minutes of Proceedings of the First Parliament of the Republic of Ireland 1919–1922 (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1921), vol. 1 (29 January 1919), cols 23–4.

(2) Children maintained by the local authorities were provided for entirely out of (p.81) the “rates” or local taxes. The one exception to this rule was illegitimate children maintained in industrial schools. Some of these children were committed by the courts and were paid for by equal contributions from both central and local authority funds. Other children were maintained in industrial schools solely at the discretion, and expense, of local authorities.

(3) This view is evident in Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan, Suffer the little children: The inside story of Ireland's industrial schools (Dublin: New Island Books, 1999); Mike Milotte, Banished babies: the secret history of Ireland's baby export business (Dublin: New Island Books, 1997); and June Goulding, The light in the window (Dublin: Poolbeg, 1998). It is also evident in scholarly works such as James Smith, Ireland's magdalen laundries and the nation's architecture of containment (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007); and Maria Luddy, “Moral rescue and unmarried motherhood in Ireland in the 1920s,” Women's Studies, 30 (2001), pp. 797–817.

(4) See Diarmuid Ferriter, The transformation of Ireland (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005); Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish society, 1800–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and James Smith, Ireland's magdalen laundries.

(5) Department of Local Government and Public Health, Annual Reports (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1939, 1940, 1941). These reports did not provide mortality rates for the Dublin and Galway institutions.

(6) Department of Local Government and Public Health, Annual Reports.

(7) Department of Health, Quarterly report on births, deaths, and marriages. (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1932, 1945).

(8) Although legislation related to home assistance did not explicitly include or exclude unmarried mothers, most local authorities operated on the general principle that unmarried mothers should not be given home assistance. However, statistics show that many unwed mothers were successful in securing home assistance for themselves and their children, although it is likely that their applications were judged far more harshly than were the applications of married couples with families.

(9) References to this type of scenario are found in a variety of sources, including ISPCC case files, Department of Health and Department of Education files, and local authority files, and span the years from the 1920s to the 1960s; this suggests that it was more common than might be expected.

(10) Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes, 3 December 1923.

(11) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 23 May 1960.

(12) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 9 June 1958.

(13) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 24 November 1959.

(14) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 16 March 1961.

(15) ISPCC case files, Mayo, 15 October 1958.

(16) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 12 June 1950.

(17) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 18 July 1957.

(18) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 18 March 1960.

(19) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 6 October 1953.

(20) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 6 October 1953.

(21) For a discussion of the development of Ireland's boarding-out system see Joseph Robins, The lost children: A study of charity children in Ireland 1700–1900 (Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 1980), pp. 272–84.

(p.82) (22) The various Public Assistance Acts empowered local authorities to pay to maintain individuals in institutions, called extern institutions, if the kind of care required could not be provided in the county homes. Some examples of extern institutions were the mother and baby homes referred to above, institutions in Dublin catering specifically for physically and mentally disabled children, and a handful of orphanages that catered for children from “respectable” families whose parents had died.

(23) Department of Local Government and Public Health, Annual Report 1922–1925, pp. 65–6.

(24) Debates of Dáil Éireann, vol. 11 (11 December 1940), col. 1128.

(25) Because responsibilities for the boarding-out system were split, to some extent, between the Department of Health at the local level, and local authorities at the county level, there also were two layers of inspection. Local authority inspectors were obliged to conduct monthly inspections of the children in their locality; there were, at any given time, three Department of Health inspectors, each responsible for conducting annual inspections of all boarded-out children in a particular geographic region.

(26) This conclusion is based on an analysis of hundreds of Department of Health inspectors’ reports on boarded-out children, along with the minutes from four boards of health and public assistance.

(27) Wicklow board of health and public assistance Minutes, 22 November 1924.

(28) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, letter from SAO Mahon to Minister for Health, 21 November 1946.

(29) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, clipping from Irish Independent, 29 March 1945.

(30) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, “Boarded-out children,” Westmeath Examiner, 28 April 1945.

(31) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, “Boarded-out children,” Westmeath Examiner, 28 April 1945.

(32) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, “Boarded-out children,” Westmeath examiner, 28 April 1945.

(33) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Mary Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 21 December 1944.

(34) NAI, Department of Health A16/25, report of inspector of boarded-out children, 6 November 1947.

(35) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Mary Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 21 December 1944.

(36) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 2, report of children boarded out in County Kerry, 18 August 1943.

(37) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Wexford, 8 March 1951.

(38) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Wexford, 8 May 1954.

(39) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, Miss Clandillon's report on prospective foster parents. NAI Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 9, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Waterford, 11 October 1949 and 25 February 1954.

(40) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, reports by Miss Clandillon on children boarded and nursed out, Kildare 1950–59.

(p.83) (41) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of Miss Clandillon on children boarded out in Kerry 1955.

(42) NAI, Department of Health A8/290 vol. 2, report of SAO B. Griffin, 13 June 1957.

(43) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 27 April 1926.

(44) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 22 May 1928.

(45) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 21 January 1930.

(46) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 8 August 1933.

(47) Cork board of health and public assistance minutes, 13 March 1939.

(48) Cork board of health and public assistance minutes, 22 April 1940.

(49) Boarded-out children could not be legally adopted once they reached the age at which maintenance grants ceased, because adoption legislation was not introduced in Ireland until 1952.

(50) NAI, Department of Health A5/79, report on boarded-out children in Cork South, 23 October 1939.

(51) Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes, 27 July 1925.

(52) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes 26 March 1935.

(53) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes 13 September 1941.

(54) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out and nurse children, Kildare 1953.

(55) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 12 September 1933.

(56) Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes, 25 January 1926.

(57) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 2, annual report of boarded-out children for the year ending 31 March 1945.

(58) NAI, Department of Health A16/25, report of inspector of boarded-out children, 6 November 1947.

(59) NAI, Department of Health A8/290 vol. 2, letter from Dublin board of assistance to Department of Health, 10 July 1957.

(60) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, reports by Miss Clandillon on children boarded and nursed out, Kildare 1953.

(61) NAI, Department of Health A16/25 report of inspector of boarded-out children, 6 November 1947.

(62) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 2, report of children boarded-out in County Kerry, 18 August 1943.

(63) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out children, 25 February 1955.

(64) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report of boarded-out children, 8 May 1954.

(65) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report of boarded-out children, 21 April 1953.

(66) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 21 September 1941.

(67) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out children, 6 October 1955.

(68) NAI, Department of Health A5/79, report on boarded-out children, Cork South, 1939.

(69) ISPCC case files, Mayo, 26 November 1958.

(70) Adoption societies were charitable organizations, typically operated under the auspices of a religious order, that assisted unmarried mothers in securing private fostering arrangements for their children. The mothers were expected to (p.84) contribute a weekly, monthly, or annual sum for their children's maintenance and, if they could not afford the full amount, the adoption society might make up the difference. St Patrick's Guild and the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society in Dublin were two of the more well-known and active societies. Others included St Anne's in Cork, St Mura's in Co. Donegal, and St Attracta's in Sligo.

(71) The Dublin board of health and public assistance reports for 19 August 1924 noted that four unregistered children had been placed in a single home by the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society. By the time these children came to the attention of local authorities in Dublin one of them had already died. A report from December 1924 noted that the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society had placed two children in a foster home despite the fact that two nursed children had already died in that home. A similar report was made in June 1929, when the Dublin board of health and public assistance discovered that a 2-week-old child had been placed, by the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society, in a home where just weeks earlier a 7-week-old child had died. The Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes are full of similar examples.

(72) Department of Local Government and Public Health annual reports provided annual statistics for children in care in four categories: boarded-out, hired out, maintained in county homes, and maintained in other institutions. Some statistics are included in individual inspection reports, and in occasional entries in board of health and public assistance minutes, but these statistics are piecemeal and somewhat random. Additionally, available evidence suggests that regulations governing children at nurse were not followed, rendering somewhat dubious the accuracy of any statistics that do exist.

(73) See, for example, Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes, 27 August 1924; 3 June 1925; 9 January 1929; 20 February 1929; 25 January 1933.

(74) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Miss Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 21 December 1944.

(75) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Miss Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 25 February 1948. Under the free milk scheme families in receipt of home assistance were entitled to daily milk rations. Similar schemes administered by various local authorities also provided footwear and turf. Foster parents were also entitled to avail of these programs on behalf of the children in their care.

(76) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Limerick, 19 February 1949.

(77) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out children, 29 March 1950.

(78) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 3, internal Department of Health memorandum, 23 September 1946.

(79) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 3, internal Department of Health memorandum, 23 September 1946.

(80) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, letter to Mr. Hargadon, Department of Health, from Miss Clandillon, 3 November 1959.

(81) The Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes are full of letters and instructions from the local authorities to the various adoption societies, suggesting that a fairly diligent inspectional regime existed in Dublin.

(82) Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes, 17 December 1924.

(83) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on (p.85) boarded-out children, 29 March 1950.

(84) NAI, Department of Health A31/37, extract from Miss Kennedy O’Byrne's report, 1938–39.

(85) This conclusion is based on an examination of the Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes for the period 1923 to 1934, after which point these records were no longer available.

Notes:

(1) Minutes of Proceedings of the First Parliament of the Republic of Ireland 1919–1922 (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1921), vol. 1 (29 January 1919), cols 23–4.

(2) Children maintained by the local authorities were provided for entirely out of (p.81) the “rates” or local taxes. The one exception to this rule was illegitimate children maintained in industrial schools. Some of these children were committed by the courts and were paid for by equal contributions from both central and local authority funds. Other children were maintained in industrial schools solely at the discretion, and expense, of local authorities.

(3) This view is evident in Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan, Suffer the little children: The inside story of Ireland's industrial schools (Dublin: New Island Books, 1999); Mike Milotte, Banished babies: the secret history of Ireland's baby export business (Dublin: New Island Books, 1997); and June Goulding, The light in the window (Dublin: Poolbeg, 1998). It is also evident in scholarly works such as James Smith, Ireland's magdalen laundries and the nation's architecture of containment (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007); and Maria Luddy, “Moral rescue and unmarried motherhood in Ireland in the 1920s,” Women's Studies, 30 (2001), pp. 797–817.

(4) See Diarmuid Ferriter, The transformation of Ireland (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005); Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish society, 1800–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and James Smith, Ireland's magdalen laundries.

(5) Department of Local Government and Public Health, Annual Reports (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1939, 1940, 1941). These reports did not provide mortality rates for the Dublin and Galway institutions.

(6) Department of Local Government and Public Health, Annual Reports.

(7) Department of Health, Quarterly report on births, deaths, and marriages. (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1932, 1945).

(8) Although legislation related to home assistance did not explicitly include or exclude unmarried mothers, most local authorities operated on the general principle that unmarried mothers should not be given home assistance. However, statistics show that many unwed mothers were successful in securing home assistance for themselves and their children, although it is likely that their applications were judged far more harshly than were the applications of married couples with families.

(9) References to this type of scenario are found in a variety of sources, including ISPCC case files, Department of Health and Department of Education files, and local authority files, and span the years from the 1920s to the 1960s; this suggests that it was more common than might be expected.

(10) Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes, 3 December 1923.

(11) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 23 May 1960.

(12) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 9 June 1958.

(13) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 24 November 1959.

(14) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 16 March 1961.

(15) ISPCC case files, Mayo, 15 October 1958.

(16) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 12 June 1950.

(17) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 18 July 1957.

(18) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 18 March 1960.

(19) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 6 October 1953.

(20) ISPCC case files, Wexford, 6 October 1953.

(21) For a discussion of the development of Ireland's boarding-out system see Joseph Robins, The lost children: A study of charity children in Ireland 1700–1900 (Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 1980), pp. 272–84.

(p.82) (22) The various Public Assistance Acts empowered local authorities to pay to maintain individuals in institutions, called extern institutions, if the kind of care required could not be provided in the county homes. Some examples of extern institutions were the mother and baby homes referred to above, institutions in Dublin catering specifically for physically and mentally disabled children, and a handful of orphanages that catered for children from “respectable” families whose parents had died.

(23) Department of Local Government and Public Health, Annual Report 1922–1925, pp. 65–6.

(24) Debates of Dáil Éireann, vol. 11 (11 December 1940), col. 1128.

(25) Because responsibilities for the boarding-out system were split, to some extent, between the Department of Health at the local level, and local authorities at the county level, there also were two layers of inspection. Local authority inspectors were obliged to conduct monthly inspections of the children in their locality; there were, at any given time, three Department of Health inspectors, each responsible for conducting annual inspections of all boarded-out children in a particular geographic region.

(26) This conclusion is based on an analysis of hundreds of Department of Health inspectors’ reports on boarded-out children, along with the minutes from four boards of health and public assistance.

(27) Wicklow board of health and public assistance Minutes, 22 November 1924.

(28) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, letter from SAO Mahon to Minister for Health, 21 November 1946.

(29) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, clipping from Irish Independent, 29 March 1945.

(30) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, “Boarded-out children,” Westmeath Examiner, 28 April 1945.

(31) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, “Boarded-out children,” Westmeath Examiner, 28 April 1945.

(32) NAI, Department of Health A30/139, “Boarded-out children,” Westmeath examiner, 28 April 1945.

(33) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Mary Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 21 December 1944.

(34) NAI, Department of Health A16/25, report of inspector of boarded-out children, 6 November 1947.

(35) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Mary Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 21 December 1944.

(36) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 2, report of children boarded out in County Kerry, 18 August 1943.

(37) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Wexford, 8 March 1951.

(38) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Wexford, 8 May 1954.

(39) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, Miss Clandillon's report on prospective foster parents. NAI Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 9, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Waterford, 11 October 1949 and 25 February 1954.

(40) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, reports by Miss Clandillon on children boarded and nursed out, Kildare 1950–59.

(p.83) (41) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of Miss Clandillon on children boarded out in Kerry 1955.

(42) NAI, Department of Health A8/290 vol. 2, report of SAO B. Griffin, 13 June 1957.

(43) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 27 April 1926.

(44) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 22 May 1928.

(45) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 21 January 1930.

(46) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 8 August 1933.

(47) Cork board of health and public assistance minutes, 13 March 1939.

(48) Cork board of health and public assistance minutes, 22 April 1940.

(49) Boarded-out children could not be legally adopted once they reached the age at which maintenance grants ceased, because adoption legislation was not introduced in Ireland until 1952.

(50) NAI, Department of Health A5/79, report on boarded-out children in Cork South, 23 October 1939.

(51) Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes, 27 July 1925.

(52) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes 26 March 1935.

(53) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes 13 September 1941.

(54) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out and nurse children, Kildare 1953.

(55) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 12 September 1933.

(56) Wicklow board of health and public assistance minutes, 25 January 1926.

(57) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 2, annual report of boarded-out children for the year ending 31 March 1945.

(58) NAI, Department of Health A16/25, report of inspector of boarded-out children, 6 November 1947.

(59) NAI, Department of Health A8/290 vol. 2, letter from Dublin board of assistance to Department of Health, 10 July 1957.

(60) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, reports by Miss Clandillon on children boarded and nursed out, Kildare 1953.

(61) NAI, Department of Health A16/25 report of inspector of boarded-out children, 6 November 1947.

(62) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 2, report of children boarded-out in County Kerry, 18 August 1943.

(63) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out children, 25 February 1955.

(64) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report of boarded-out children, 8 May 1954.

(65) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report of boarded-out children, 21 April 1953.

(66) Offaly board of health and public assistance minutes, 21 September 1941.

(67) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out children, 6 October 1955.

(68) NAI, Department of Health A5/79, report on boarded-out children, Cork South, 1939.

(69) ISPCC case files, Mayo, 26 November 1958.

(70) Adoption societies were charitable organizations, typically operated under the auspices of a religious order, that assisted unmarried mothers in securing private fostering arrangements for their children. The mothers were expected to (p.84) contribute a weekly, monthly, or annual sum for their children's maintenance and, if they could not afford the full amount, the adoption society might make up the difference. St Patrick's Guild and the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society in Dublin were two of the more well-known and active societies. Others included St Anne's in Cork, St Mura's in Co. Donegal, and St Attracta's in Sligo.

(71) The Dublin board of health and public assistance reports for 19 August 1924 noted that four unregistered children had been placed in a single home by the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society. By the time these children came to the attention of local authorities in Dublin one of them had already died. A report from December 1924 noted that the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society had placed two children in a foster home despite the fact that two nursed children had already died in that home. A similar report was made in June 1929, when the Dublin board of health and public assistance discovered that a 2-week-old child had been placed, by the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society, in a home where just weeks earlier a 7-week-old child had died. The Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes are full of similar examples.

(72) Department of Local Government and Public Health annual reports provided annual statistics for children in care in four categories: boarded-out, hired out, maintained in county homes, and maintained in other institutions. Some statistics are included in individual inspection reports, and in occasional entries in board of health and public assistance minutes, but these statistics are piecemeal and somewhat random. Additionally, available evidence suggests that regulations governing children at nurse were not followed, rendering somewhat dubious the accuracy of any statistics that do exist.

(73) See, for example, Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes, 27 August 1924; 3 June 1925; 9 January 1929; 20 February 1929; 25 January 1933.

(74) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Miss Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 21 December 1944.

(75) NAI, Department of Health A19/105, Miss Murray's report on boarded-out children in County Longford, 25 February 1948. Under the free milk scheme families in receipt of home assistance were entitled to daily milk rations. Similar schemes administered by various local authorities also provided footwear and turf. Foster parents were also entitled to avail of these programs on behalf of the children in their care.

(76) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, reports of inspector of boarded-out children, Limerick, 19 February 1949.

(77) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on boarded-out children, 29 March 1950.

(78) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 3, internal Department of Health memorandum, 23 September 1946.

(79) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 3, internal Department of Health memorandum, 23 September 1946.

(80) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 7, letter to Mr. Hargadon, Department of Health, from Miss Clandillon, 3 November 1959.

(81) The Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes are full of letters and instructions from the local authorities to the various adoption societies, suggesting that a fairly diligent inspectional regime existed in Dublin.

(82) Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes, 17 December 1924.

(83) NAI, Department of Health Augusta McCabe box 8, Miss Clandillon's report on (p.85) boarded-out children, 29 March 1950.

(84) NAI, Department of Health A31/37, extract from Miss Kennedy O’Byrne's report, 1938–39.

(85) This conclusion is based on an examination of the Dublin board of health and public assistance minutes for the period 1923 to 1934, after which point these records were no longer available.