Illegitimacy was historically viewed by some as a moral failure not just on the part of the parents but for the child his or herself, it was claimed in Banbridge yesterday.
Counsel for the inquiry Christine Smith QC yesterday detailed the development of the care system both before and after partition.
In the 1800s a wave of Catholic institutions were built, with French models of care imported. Larger institutions were seen as giving economies of scale.
The intention was to save souls and the Victorian idea of redeeming individuals was also a factor.
From 1859 to 1969, she said that 1,005 children passed through industrial schools on the island.
Some were orphans, homeless or abandoned children but the majority were from large families which were unable to cope.
Later children from single mothers were also a factor.
Up until World War II people were seen as redeemable or irredeemable, with the latter given over to state care.
After the war there was more state partnership with homes, though Catholic orders saw this as interference.
In the 1920s there were some 2,000 families in Belfast which were “destitute”, she said.
The Blitz in 1941 revealed the true nature of deprivation and was a spur to action; many children living in their own families were suffering hunger and malnutrition.
The Troubles disrupted much work in the area.
In 1975 Sir Harold Black compiled recommendations on reform. But the debate was cut short by the Kincora abuse scandal.
This improved child protection but resulted in “a lack of demonstrations of love and reassurance” for children, she said.