Maternity Home (Encyclopedia)

The Decline of the Maternity Home

In the mid-1960s, the United States had about 300 maternity homes - residences for pregnant girls and women. Many of them were quite large and could serve a sizeable number of women. That number has dropped dramatically over the decades, due to the availability of both abortion and reliable birth control, and increasing acceptance of unwed pregnancy. But there are still times when a girl or woman will wish or need to live out her pregnancy in a maternity home.

In the past, a maternity home was a place of secrecy and seclusion where pregnant teens could hide away until their babies were born. The babies were then placed for adoption and the girls returned to their regular lives after their extended "vacation." The maternity home of the present tends to serve a far different client group, usually adults or adolescents in a crisis pregnancy. Many of the residents are teens in the foster care system or those who are homeless.

In some cases, a maternity home are associated with an adoption agency; others are not. All maternity homes now offer women the choice of whether or not to place their baby for adoption. Those who live in the home usually pay no fee for the services they receive, which include counseling, help in applying for public assistance programs (food stamps, Medicaid), advice on nutrition, and assistance in determining the next steps in a career or education.

Maternity homes may be networked, where several homes operated by different service providers are linked through a common funding source, or independent, where a single program is operated by one provider. Today's typical maternity home is independent. The bulk of funding usually comes from one major government source (child welfare, Medicaid) which is supplemented by other sources (state funds, private contributions.)

The typical resident of today's maternity home is a young (usually teen) single woman who has probably faced some serious challenges in her life. Many come from chaotic family backgrounds and many have been abused, often sexually. Their time in the maternity home may be the most stable period in their lives. The challenge for maternity homes is to give them the services needed for a successful transition to parenting (if they choose to keep their babies) and independent living.