Baby homes death rate up to 50%

Child death rates in three mother-and-baby homes that were run by religious orders were as high as 50% during the 1940s.

According to new research, death rates at homes in Bessborough in Cork, Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary, and Castlepollard in Westmeath ranged between 30% and 50% between 1930 and 1945.

The Adoption Rights Alliance say children in mother-and-baby homes often died of “entirely preventable ailments” and, at worst, from “infanticide and/or neglect” as children of unmarried mothers were regarded as “sub-human”.

The claims follow the discovery of hundreds of children buried in a septic tank at a former home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, Co Galway.

The Government is under pressure to launch a public inquiry into all deaths of babies, children, and mothers at such homes around the country.

The data, based on preliminary research from the Adoption Rights Alliance found that the average death rate for children born in Sean Ross Abbey in 1932-37 and 1940-45 was 30.73% (846 births/260 deaths) and 30.72% (882 births/271 deaths), respectively.

It also found that the average death rate for children born in Bessborough in 1941-45 was 43.45% (474 births/206 deaths).

Concerns about the level of deaths in Bessborough were highlighted for the Department of Health in the 1950s by the chief medical officer, Dr James Deeny, who temporarily closed the home.

“The deaths had been going on for years. They had done nothing about it, had accepted the situation, and were quite complacent about it,” wrote Dr Deeny in his book, To Cure and To Care — Memoirs of a Chief Medical Officer.

Mari Steed of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the new figures highlight the need for “a full and completely independent investigation into numbers and causes of infant and mother deaths, as well as identification of where and how these individuals are buried”.

Ms Steed said there are a number of questions that need to be answered as to the scale of potential graves at mother-and-baby home sites and whether death certificates were provided for the children who died.

“There are existing Angel’s Plots at all three of these homes but they only bear a small handful of markers. Where are the rest of these children buried,” she asked.

The alliance said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was aware of the issue as it had sent her material while she was children’s minister.

Charlie Flanagan, the current minister, said “active consideration” is being given to the best means of addressing the issue.

“Relevant government departments have been tasked with working together in preparation for the Government’s early consideration and determination of the best course of action,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Sacred Heart Sisters said all of the children not taken home by their families “were buried near the mother-and-baby homes” and that their mothers were informed of the deaths.

The spokesperson said it did not have death certs for all children as all deaths were properly notified to the statutory authorities at the time. “There was no right to a death certificate bestowed on the congregation”.

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