ISPCC notes regret over committing children


INDUSTRIAL SCHOOLS:THE IRISH Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has expressed its “sincere regret” for the role it played in committing children to industrial schools.

The society – known as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children until the 1950s – employed inspectors to carry out its function of protecting vulnerable children.

The main function of an inspector, known colloquially as the “cruelty man”, was to investigate complaints of child neglect or abuse, a role which today is carried out by social workers.

The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abusepublished this week found that the ISPCC played a significant role in committing children.

The inspectors – typically retired police or Army members – operated very much on an independent basis, as there was little or no monitoring or supervision of them, the inquiry report notes.

A spokeswoman for the ISPCC, Caroline O’Sullivan, yesterday said the society “held its hands up” and sincerely regretted the role it played in the past.

“We sincerely regret if any of these children were harmed. We had a substantial role to play and we regret that.

“Anything we say is not going to make it better, but we absolutely put our hands up and admit that this happened,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

She added that the ISPCC today was a very different organisation, and advocated on behalf of vulnerable children.

While a lack of records means the real scale of the part the ISPCC played in committing children to industrial schools cannot be accurately measured, it is clear its influence was significant.

For example, of the 226 complainants who testified to the inquiry about their time in these industrial schools, a total of 84, or 37 per cent, had been referred by the ISPCC.

Records indicate that it played a role in placing children in industrial schools from the late 19th century until the late 1960s.

The ISPCC faced allegations between the 1940s and 1960s of being too eager to send children into industrial schools, and of not doing enough to work alongside parents.

There was also an allegation in 1952 that inspectors were taking bribes as an inducement to send children to industrial schools. The report states that inspectors in the early 1950s were accustomed to receiving payment for “expenses”, in contravention of the rules.

Ms O’Sullivan said it was clear these inspectors were not qualified to act as social workers, and said training of inspectors only commenced in 1968.

The traditional role of inspectors ended in about 1970, and the State began to employ social workers to take over this role. Some of the inspectors were seconded to the health boards at this time, Ms O’Sullivan said.

“These inspectors were not qualified. How they were ever in any position to assess the level of risk facing children is hugely questionable. From what the report says, it seems they were overzealous in sending children to these institutions,” she said.

The ISPCC today is a very different organisation, she added, which advocates on behalf of children and works with families who seek help or support on a voluntary basis.

“This report has brought to light the dangers of placing too much power in individuals, and not listening to the voice of children. We hope this report – and fact that so many were shocked at its contents – will bring about changes to address this,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

She urged the Government to accept the report’s recommendations in full – in particular regarding the implementation of the Children First guidelines.