IT it were possible to imagine
Ireland offering adequate help to the unmarried mother and her child, now is the time. Irish girls have come to this country for years because there were few facilities at home and they were terrified of family attitudes. Times are changing, however, even in Ireland, and it may yet see an organisation similar to the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child.
'Only last month, at a big con ference in Kilkenny on Community Services for the One Parent Family, the chief speaker was Margaret Braman, director of the National Council and a woman able to steer obdurate officialdom in what she considers to be the right direction.
She said: "I have always had a sympathy for the one parent family. It is hardly surprising, for I had to be solely responsible for mine by the time my eldest son was five."
Whatever her reasons. Margaret Bramall has spent most of her life working to improve the position of the unmarried mother and her child. Campaigning would be too strong a word for the delicate way in which Mrs. Bramall and her committee get what they want quietly and without too much fuss.
It took the National Council 50 years to achieve a change in the law which required fathers to pay according to their resources, and about as long to give illegitimate children almost comparable inheritance rights with their legitimate brothers and sisters.
But things are moving faster now, and with the Family Income Supplement Bill, the unmarried mother will be given even further help to lead an independent life. Already the Government is dropping a clause in the Bill because of pressure from the National Council.
"It was very kind of the Minister concerned to take our plea so seriously," Mrs. Bramall said disarmingly. "If Clause 9 had stayed it would have meant yet more questioning into people's private livesan, I as a result many mothers never would have applied for the supplement.
"The only tragedy is that because it will not bring them up to what they could get on supplementary benefit, the Bill will not really encourage mothers who want to work to do so".
As in many a worthwhile Bill, the changes envisaged never quite measure up to the original conception. But, as Mrs. Bramall points out: "It
is a step in the right direction, and would hardly have been considered a few years ago."
At the Kilkenny conference she explained just how much circumstances and attitudes have changed over the years. In 1918, when the National Council was for nied over 200 out of 1,000 illegitimate children died before they were a year old.
The Mother and Baby Homes started by such pioneers as Dr, Bernardo and Josephine Butler helped to stem this tide, and now many of them are closing because families are no longer showing their pregnant daughters the door.
Adoptions are less frequent, too, as girls are finding it possible to bring up their children themselves.
But Mrs. Bramall also showed that of all sections of society the unsupported mother with a child ie the poorest, the worst housed and with the least medical care. and in this section the unmarried mother is the most N'Illiterablo of all.
A compassionate woman with the strength of character that is not a rteceeeiry concomitant of sympathy, she joined the National Council in 1961 after three years of coping with the inflexible rulings in local authority work.
"It seemed wrong", she said mildly. "People were fitted into arrangements instead of the other way round. Services were inadequate and there was no dignity of choice".
One of the aspects of her work which upset her greatly was knowing that a girl who had decided on adoption was forced to care for her baby for six weeks or more before the child was taken away. Now provisions are better, and more flexible attitudes are common.
The unmarried mother is at last beginning to be treated as a person with needs rather than a social outcast. Instead, she is now becoming part of the much wider group of unsupported parents — fathers as
well as mothers who, through death, divorce or desertion are having to bring up children alone.
"I think it is a good thing," site said, "for them to be identified with a wider group because it is less i.ailating, and we think the council has reached a stage when we can best help the unmarried mother by broadening our work to cover the single parent families.
"What shall we call it?" she asked. "Association for One Parent Families has been one suggestion. But whatever we do to extend our work we still must have a special concern for the unmarried mother. She is the most vulnerable of all".