Trainee social worker ‘afraid’ of nuns at Derry care home

Termonbacca was ‘not a good place for a child to be,’ abuse inquiry told

The witness told the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry that she was afraid of the nuns  at St Joseph’s home Termonbacca while she was working there as a trainee social worker. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

The witness told the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry that she was afraid of the nuns at St Joseph’s home Termonbacca while she was working there as a trainee social worker. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

 

A trainee social worker at a children’s home in Derry run by the Sisters of Nazareth has accused nuns of being regimented and controlling and of resisting new approaches to childcare.

The witness, who cannot be named, told the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry said she volunteered at St Joseph’s home Termonbacca when still a teenager before being offered paid work there as a houseparent. She also attended social work training part-time, paid for by the nuns.

She complained of the nuns’ treatment of the boys in the home, alleging they were “roaring at them, shouting at them”.

“I was frightened of the nuns myself,” she told Christine Smith QC, senior counsel to the inquiry.

“They were very forceful, everything had to be tidy and put away. Kids who wet the bed would be demeaned in front of others.”

It was put to her that nuns have previously denied these claims, but the witness insisted what she said was true.

She further alleged that if children did not carry out their many chores to the required standard they would be told off and she contradicted nuns’ claims that the chores were voluntary. There were strict instructions she said.

“Some of these children were very young, aged six,” she continued.

She said she believed one nun, who cannot be identified, was probably transferred away from Termonbacca because “was not good to children and who just wanted to rule the roost”.

She supported claims made by a former Termonbacca resident that he tried to run away from the home on three occasions.

She said there was sexual abuse of the boys at the home and further alleged that Termonbacca was behind other homes she experienced in dealing with this and other aspects of child care.

She said she never witnessed any inspections nor was ever spoken to by any social worker other than that employed by the Sisters of Nazareth themselves at the home.

“It was a very regimented life, as a young girl it was a life I wouldn’t have liked. I was frightened of the nuns.”

She concluded: “There was very little compassion or even kindness shown to those children.” She said she often took children to her home and they cried when they had to return.

Her own mother, in whome she confided, suggested that perhaps it was better she left.

She said she cared deeply about the children, “It was because of the nuns that I left. I prayed that it would be closed. It wasn’t a good place for a child to be.”

She said she hoped the children who were in the home “got justice from the inquiry”.