Mother and baby homes

Historic adoptions

Towards the end of the 19th century, The Salvation Army opened the first of many ‘Rescue Homes’ to support women who were fleeing domestic abuse, crime or who had found themselves destitute. The homes sheltered vulnerable women and provided training to help them find work.

Some of the women seeking our help were pregnant so the first of many dedicated ‘Mother and Baby Homes’ opened in 1890 in Hackney. Between 1945 and 1980, 20 of these homes were operational across the UK with the last, based in East London, closing in 1980.

It’s difficult to imagine how scared these women must have been, some having been ostracised by their families, employers and communities. For many seeking our help, The Salvation Army was often the only support service available. Initially expectant mothers self-referred and in later years the homes took referrals from Local Authorities.

Life in a Mother and Baby Home

The services, run by trained staff and midwives, were designed to give mothers a safe place to give birth. Resident mothers would have helped towards the running of the home and contributed to cooking and cleaning.

Salvation Army Orders and Regulations governed the running of the Mother and Baby Homes. First published in the 1920s and updated in 1962, the Orders and Regulations stated:

‘The ruling principle of The Salvation Army is that mother and child shall be encouraged to keep together unless there are exceptional circumstances which would clearly render this inadvisable.’

However, while adoptions may not have been the norm we now understand that some mothers feel the adoptions were arranged against their wishes.

Thanks to the bravery of those who have chosen to speak out about their experiences, we also know that not everyone in our care received the support needed.

An important apology

The Salvation Army’s leader in the UK and Ireland, Territorial Commander Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, said:

‘We are deeply saddened to hear of the traumatic experiences that some people endured in the care of The Salvation Army many decades ago. We are extremely grateful to those who have shared their testimonies about their experiences.

‘Entering a mother and baby home was often the only option for many unmarried mothers. Many organisations, including The Salvation Army ran mother and baby homes with the intention of supporting and protecting vulnerable women and children from destitution.

‘However, we acknowledge that there are some who found their experiences in these homes extremely traumatic and they did not always receive the support they needed and deserved, for which we are deeply sorry.

‘It is right to expect The Salvation Army to be open and transparent and for us to reflect on a time in our history when it is clear that some individuals in our care were let down. We will continue to work with the researchers and Government agencies to share our records to ensure those who suffered have a voice.’

Who was responsible for adoptions?

From the 1880s to the 1950s, The Salvation Army coordinated approximately 850 adoptions. All Salvation Army coordinated adoptions ceased in 1953 when the law was changed to state that all adoptions should be carried out by Local Authorities and other adoption agencies.  

According to our records, between 1945 and 1980 approximately around 20,400 babies were born in Salvation Army homes across the UK. We estimate that around 6,700 of these babies, approximately a third, had adoptions arranged by Local Authorities and other adoption agencies. This breaks down to around 3,300 adoptions in England, 2,100 in Scotland, 550 in Wales and 400 in Northern Ireland. In the years before 1953, the adoption of around 180 of these babies was arranged by The Salvation Army.

Seeking the truth

There are currently processes underway to understand more about how women and their children were treated. For example, we have provided written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry and to the Northern Ireland Inquiry.

We welcome these formal inquiries. It is important to give a voice to those who lived in our homes and for us to assist the work of the Inquiries in order to help mothers who had their children adopted and also their adopted children.

How to find out more

If you have any concerns about child protection these should be reported to the police. The Salvation Army’s safeguarding team can also be contacted so that they can respond.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board is responsible for receiving and processing applications for compensation from those who experienced abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.