Monday 26 February 2018

Children at Tuam home were 'emaciated' and starved

Inspectors' 1947 report reveals the extent of abuse at nuns' care home

A model of the Mother and Baby home in Tuam Co, Galway, by historian Catherine Corless. Photo: Andrew Downes
A model of the Mother and Baby home in Tuam Co, Galway, by historian Catherine Corless. Photo: Andrew Downes
A report of Tuam home made by inspectors to the facility
A report of Tuam home made by inspectors to the facility
A report of Tuam home made by inspectors to the facility
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

THE full extent of the horrendous conditions children were forced to live in at the Tuam mother-and-baby home, where up to 300 infants are buried, are revealed in an official inspector's report obtained by the Sunday Independent.

The damning 1947 report, compiled after a visit to the home, paints a picture as grim as the harrowing accounts of starved children that emerged from Romanian orphanages after the fall of Ceausescu in the early 1990s.

It tells how children were suffering from malnutrition and in many instances were pot-bellied – a sign of starvation. The report records children as having wizened limbs, with many described as being 'mentally defective'.

One child is described as 'a miserable, emaciated child with a voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions', while another is reported to be 'emaciated, with flesh hanging loosely on limbs'.

It also reveals that the home was crowded with 271 children and 61 mothers living there at the same time. This number exceeded the 'desirable' level of 243, according to the inspector.

Of the 31 infants examined, 12 were described as being 'emaciated and not thriving'. The stark report also records one child with abscesses on hips and boils on their body.

Laying out in stark detail the staggeringly high number of children who were dying in the home each year, it reveals:

* 34 per cent of children died in the home in 1943;

* 25 per cent died in 1944;

* 23 per cent died in 1945.

More than one-in-four (27 per cent) of children living in the home in 1946 lost their lives that year.

An extract from the report notes the shocking number of deaths of babies in the home, stating: "The death rate amongst infants is high... The death rate had appeared to be on the decrease but has now begun to rise again."

Stating that 21 deaths occurred out of 66 births or admissions in the year to September 1946, the report adds: "It is time to enquire into the possible cause before the death rate mounts higher."

However, despite the shocking number of deaths, the report found that "the care given to infants in the Home is good, the Sisters are careful and attentive; diets are excellent. It is not here that we must look for cause of the death rate".

The inspector raises the risk of infection being brought in from outside the home as one possible cause and raises concerns about a lack of an isolation unit. It also points out that there was no testing for venereal diseases and that the doctor caring for the kids was over 80 years old, and calls for a younger doctor with "more up-to-date knowledge" to be considered.

Death records obtained by local historian, Catherine Corless, for the home make clear the sheer level of neglect prevailing throughout the institution.

A list of the children who died shows that in many cases infants were dying within days of being born. In one outbreak of measles, 27 children died together.

Others died from fits, oedema, abscess of the scalp and in one case, laryngitis.

"There was neglect and that's the truth. There are all sorts of reasons given for the causes of death. It's not enough. It would suggest that they just had to put down something," Ms Corless told the Sunday Independent.

She described the death rate as "scandalous", adding that it was "simply colossal".

"The report just talks about the children as they found them. The inspectors called to the home every other year and a copy of the report from 1947 shows the state of the emaciated babies. It's in the report, there's no denying it.

"The truth needs to be known. You can see the state of the babies from it, they were recorded as not thriving and with emaciated limbs. When you see that, you can't just hide that away. Pot-bellied is a sign of hunger. You can't hide the truth of it," she added.

She also points to the significant funding the nuns received for the care of these children and their mothers.

"You can't excuse that no matter what the times were like. The nuns were getting well paid for those children. They were getting a pound a head for each mother and child from the government, which was quite a bit of money at the time. They were self-sufficient, they had their own vegetable gardens which the mothers tended so when you look it that way, the treatment of them can't be accepted," Ms Corless added.

Sunday Independent

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