Mother and baby homes

In Northern Ireland from the early 1920s until the early 1980s, The Salvation Army and many other organisations operated homes for mothers and babies with the intention of protecting vulnerable women and children from destitution.  

The Salvation Army ran a mother and baby home and two residential centres for women and children in Belfast. Some of the babies born at the mother and baby home were adopted, but this reduced over the years as more choices became available to women. 

It seems difficult to comprehend that not that long ago many women who were pregnant outside of marriage were ostracised by employers and often their family. Mother and baby homes existed to protect women and children from destitution. However, we now know that in many cases these homes did not provide the care and support that these women needed and deserved. 
 
It is important to be honest about the past and so we were pleased to open our archives to support the report into the mother and baby units that was commissioned by the Department of Health.

This report was an important opportunity to give a voice to those who lived in the homes. Four women were able to speak to researchers about experiences, but we know about 2,000 stayed at the mother and baby homes over the years. We encourage anyone else to contact us if they would like to share their experiences.

An important apology

The Salvation Army’s leader in the UK and Republic of 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 the four women who shared their testimonies for this report.  

“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 protecting vulnerable women and children from destitution. 

“However, as the powerful oral testimonies make clear some found their experiences in these homes extremely traumatic and they did not receive the support and care they needed and deserve for which we are deeply sorry. 

“It is right to expect The Salvation Army to be open and transparent and we worked with the researchers to share our records with them to ensure those who suffered have a voice. We will reflect on the report’s findings and cooperate fully with the independent investigation.” 

Next steps

Following the report, The Stormont Assembly has commissioned a formal Inquiry which we are supporting with information from our archives.

Today the same site in Belfast is run as a family centre, providing accommodation and help for vulnerable families. Support staff tackle difficulties they may have with parenting or other issues like mental ill health, or relationships.

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.

If you want to access any historical documents relating to mother and baby homes - then please email our International Heritage Centre. 

The Salvation Army runs a Family Tracing Service which helps to trace family members, including people adopted as children.

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.