Are religious institutions a thing of the past?
It is hard to imagine now, but when they were established, the industrial schools were an enlightened advance. They were intended as an alternative to the workhouses, or poorhouses as they were more commonly known. In 1853, 77,000 children under 5 years of age (one third of them orphans), were living in workhouses throughout Ireland. In 1868 an act of Parliament provided for the funding and regulation of a system of industrial schools. The intention was to provide food, clothing and shelter to children who might otherwise want for these necessities, together with a basic education and a vocational training which would enable them to obtain gainful employment. Was this a good thing?
Religious congregations whose founders had been inspired by a love of the poor saw it as a logical extension of their mission to involve themselves in these new schools. Would they of being better off doing more to uphold the family as the only means of offering children proper stability and tackling the problems that caused children to be sent to these schools?
No one knows when things started to go wrong in these industrial schools. Was there abuse from the start or was it a pattern that emerged later? Did things change with independence? In 1932 who knows? The Ryan report focuses on a period from 1936-1970. During that time 170,000 children and young persons (about 1.2% of the age cohort) entered the 50 or so industrial schools. The average stay was about 7years. During that same period approximately 2,000 to 3,000 children spent time in a reformatory. Of these 170,000 about 1% brought complaints to the commission. They were known as hard places but did Irish society expect them to be hard places. The people that ran these places had no formal training in child care not like today.
One can argue of course, that the religious congregations should of been able to rise above the standards of the time and apply the standards of their...