Tuesday, January 12, 2021
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9,000 children died amid high infant mortality rate

9,000 children died amid high infant mortality rate
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Nine thousand children died in Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes between 1922 and 1998, including three-quarters of all the children born, or admitted to one home in one year during the second World War.

In all, 15 per cent of the approximately 57,000 children who were in the 18 institutions investigated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission died during their time there.

The “very high rate of infant mortality” during the first year of the babies’ lives in the institutions “is probably the most disquieting feature of these institutions,” the Commission report, published on Tuesday, found.

“In the years 1945-46, the death rate among infants” in the homes “was almost twice that of the national average for ‘illegitimate’ children,” it said. The term “illegitimate”, referring to children born to unmarried mothers, was used in Ireland until 1987.

In Bessborough in Cork, 75.19 per cent of all babies admitted to, or born in the home during the course of 1943 died in infancy, according to the report.

“Infant mortality rates fell to just over 12 per cent in 1946 and continued a downward trend. By 1952, the infant mortality rate [there] stood at 2.15 per cent,” the report states.

The highest mortality rate of all of the homes was in the Sean Ross Home (1931 – 1969) at Roscrea, Co Tipperary where 1,090 infants out of 6,079 died – 79 per cent of them between 1932 and 1947. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The highest mortality rate of all of the homes was in the Sean Ross Home (1931 – 1969) at Roscrea, Co Tipperary where 1,090 infants out of 6,079 died – 79 per cent of them between 1932 and 1947.

The report also found that “Sean Ross had a much higher incidence of mortality from major infectious diseases, such as diphtheria and typhoid, than any other mother and baby home.”

It attributed this to “the transfer of mothers to the local fever hospital, where they worked as unpaid nurses, and their return to Sean Ross, where they appear to have transmitted infection to their child.”

In a damning conclusion, the report found the homes “did not save” the lives of “illegitimate” children in the years before 1960; in fact “they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival.”

The high infant mortality rates were not hidden but “were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”

The first report of the registrar general of the Irish Free State highlighted the appalling excess mortality of children born to unmarried mothers, the Commission found.

Subsequently, a succession of Department of Local Government and Public Health reports noted that fact, too, but “there is little evidence that politicians or the public were concerned about these children.”



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