Clinicians call for change to mother and baby homes redress scheme

Experts in childhood trauma say scheme does not take ‘best practice’ into account

Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, which was a  mother and baby home from 1930 to 1970. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, which was a mother and baby home from 1930 to 1970. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


More than 30 experts in childhood trauma have written to the children’s minister asking for the recommendations in the mother and baby homes redress scheme to be changed to take “best practice” into account.

The scheme, announced by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman last week, will provide redress to those who were mothers in the homes and those who were babies at the time – but among the latter only those who spent six months or more in an institution will be eligible for redress.

The scheme has been largely criticised by adoptee survivors, who have said it “discriminates against” any who spent fewer than six months as an infant in the home.

On Monday, a specialist group of clinicians wrote an open letter to the Minister about the scheme.

“In reading the details of the scheme, what strikes us is the lack of integration of the latest research regarding childhood trauma and brain development, which in turn lead to erroneous conclusions and pathways for those with lived experiences of mother and baby homes,” the letter says.

The clinicians acknowledge that the issues are “complex”, but said there are three important points that must be made.

They say that childhood trauma, which includes separation from primary caregiver and exposure to multiple caregivers, has “the greatest impact early in childhood”.

“This is due to the rapid growth in brain development at this time and the importance of consistency of adult-child interaction to ensure adequate stimulation for optimal brain growth,” the letter states.

“Thus, to state that young children, who might have been in mother and baby homes for a period of two to three months early in life were less impacted by those who spent longer, is simply not scientifically correct.”

It adds: “Indeed, the opposite is true. The earlier the impact of trauma the more long lasting the effects.”

Secondly, the clinicians state that there is no “quantum of time” that allows us to think about the impact of childhood trauma.

“Thus, having an arbitrary period of 6 months’ exposure is simply that, arbitrary,” they add.

The clinicians also state that those who were babies at the time of the experience, and consequently pre-verbal, “will not have developed the language and cognitive abilities to narrate their stories”.

“This leaves these individuals more vulnerable to embodied trauma, that is trauma held and expressed through the body,” they said.

“Consequently, you will see difficulties such as settling in new environments, presenting as hypervigilant in response to noise and smells and being triggered by unexplainable events in the environment.”

The clinicians said they are seeking a revision of the recommendations, “with inclusion of best practice guidelines regarding neuroscience, childhood trauma and attachment”.

“We are willing to work alongside you to see these changes through and want to meaningfully contribute to better practices, rather than simply criticising from the sidelines.”