Missing Persons offers search for birth mothers, children
BY LESLIE PEACOCK, MAJOR –
Not long after the Army was formed, the first homes for women were established in London, England, under the leadership of Mrs. Bramwell Booth. These were refuges primarily for destitute women, some of whom were living on the streets or had been in prison for crimes — many who came were young, expectant mothers.
The Army soon realized that pregnant women needed different care and opened a small rescue home. By 1887, rescue homes had made it to America. The first was opened in Brooklyn, New York, and within seven years 15 homes were operating across the United States.
The Western Territory established its first home in 1887 in Oakland, California. At their peak, there were 10 institutions across the west, generally referred to as Booth Memorial Homes and Hospitals. These were multi-service health and welfare centers with a variety of programs including social casework, medical care, spiritual guidance, counseling, foster homes and related services. This ministry offered privacy and respect for each young woman regardless of age, race, religion or economic background.
In an average year, more than 2,600 women turned to Booth Memorial Hospitals for assistance. Most were between the ages of 15-20 and represented all socio-economic backgrounds. Some of the infants born at Booth Homes were placed for adoption. Adoption and child placement services were not among the functions of the homes, but staff helped facilitate adoption through approved agencies.
By the mid-’70s, maintenance of hospital programs was no longer financially feasible. At the same time, the viability of maternity homes as such was becoming unnecessary due to the changing social conditions and expectations. Five of the programs in the Western Territory: Anchorage, Portland, Boise, Los Angeles and San Diego–more than in any other territory–were able to shift program focus in order to keep the facilities open. In each instance, these programs now serve “troubled teens” who happen also to be pregnant. In all but a few instances, the young women served by The Salvation Army choose to keep their babies rather than place them for adoption.
Connecting birth mothers and
The Missing Persons Service has relocated client records from all closed maternity home and hospital programs in the territory, except Boise and Denver, to territorial headquarters. These records contain information that is of interest to mothers who gave birth to children at our facilities and to the children themselves. The information in these files is a vital part of the children’s sense of identity and may, in many instances, be helpful in reconnecting them with their natural parents.
This issue is a highly emotional one, involving those who feel they have the “right to information” regarding their background, and those birth mothers who feel they were “promised” confidentiality and anonymity. The way the pendulum seems to be swinging, it appears that those who advocate open records will eventually succeed in changing the laws–a very difficult decision, which will never satisfy all parties involved.
The purpose of the program is to provide information, referral and, where appropriate and feasible, bring about reunion of birth mothers and adopted children who were originally served through our Booth Home program.
For those records that we currently have on microfilm or hard copy, we offer the release of non-identifying information to birth mother or adoptee. We also offer a registry to birthmothers, and information and referral to the adoption agency or state government agency that may be able to assist them further with information regarding their child.
For adoptees, we offer to attempt a search for their birth mother. This is done in the same manner that Missing Persons Service searches are done, with the exception that before any information is released regarding the names and locations, we must obtain a notarized statement from both birth mother and adoptee giving permission to release the information.
We have a caseworker with a BA in social work, to facilitate counseling, guidance and referral of these cases. We attempt to follow up on these cases for at least a period of one year following a reunion of birth mother and child.
For those whose records we cannot locate, who did not deliver or who were not born at The Salvation Army Booth Maternity Homes, we continue to offer support and referral to agencies within their state. As we become more familiar with agencies, we will compile a reference list that can be given to those who were not part of the Booth program.