More Catholics are needed
tfor great work of charity THE. annual report of the I. National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child for the year 1952-53 draws attention to the fact that there are "comparatively few trained workers among Catholics" to help and guide unmarried mothers and expectant mothers and it refers to figures which "reveal that the case load of the Roman Catholic social workers is out of proportion to their number."
Here, therefore. is a field for Catholic action where there is not only a great work of charity to be done but also a work of great national importance.
Keeping her child
THE family that is limited under such circumstances to mother and child can never represent the Catholic ideal of family life -any more than it represents the biological or social ideals-but it is clearly much more in accordance with the Catholic ideal that an unmarried mother should, wherever it is humanly possible. bring up her own child than that the child should be taken from her and adopted or placed in an institution.
However, an unmarried mother who undertakes the upbringing of a child faces a burden of responsibility that calls for great courage and resource. Practical assistance of many kinds is needed and without in any way underestimating the value of private charity in these cases, it teems true to say that it is obviously better that such assistance should be given by a trained worker who can appreciate and deal with the mother's problems as well as her material needs.
TT is good to see that the coun
len report lays such emphasis on the fact that "the best possible solution for the illegitimate child is to remain with his natural mother" and it is to be hoped that future legislation will promote this end rather than encourage, directly or indirectly, an already widespread inclination "to look on adoption as an end in itself."
The law does not permit consent to adoption to be given until a child is at least six weeks of age but there has been a tendency of late, which the report strongly condemns, to arrange for an illegitimate child to be placed with foster parents at a much earlier stage and for the legal formalities of adoption to he dealt with when the six-week interval has elapsed.
This is, as the report says, if not a violation of the law itself, certainly a violation of its spirit and intention, since it deprives the unmarried mother of that admittedly very short period in which to consider her position calmly and decide without pressure or interference whether or not she is in a position to accept the responsibility of bringing up her child.
AS with all such social problems, the causes of illegitimacy are very complicated and it is taking too easy a way out to attribute it simply to broken homes or ignorance.
The council report that an enquiry they conducted does not support the suggestion that the number of unmarried mothers under 17 is on the increase. The figures it gives to support this belief are, however, rather sketchy and in any case refer not to girls "under 17" but only to girls under 15. The figures for unmarried mothers of 14. for example, show that there have been both good years and bad.
Very little. I think. can he concluded from tigurcs which show that 1950 had the second highest rate, and 1951 the lowest of all, since 1940.
The report has one very important thing to say of illegitimate births among young girls when it comments on the way in which Irish girls are enticed to this country by employment agencies and then, once work has been found for them, left to their own inevitably slender devices. That ignorance and inexperience are not the whole story is indicated by the fact that the report states that unmarried mothers "continue to come from almost every walk of life" and include university students as well as girls from the sheltered atmosphere of old-fashioned children's homes.
OTHER causative factors are, perhaps, to be gleaned frorp the following figures.
The illegitimate birth-rate has been declining since 1945, when almost one in every 10 children born in England and Wales was illegitimate. In 1952. the last year for which complete
figures are given, the proportion was just under one in 20. The 1945 figure was the highest since 1918 but in between there were other peak periods.
After a period of decline following the first World War. illegitimacy increased again during the years 192630-a time of great economic depression. It declined again in the early 1930's hut the next increase began. not at the outbreak of the second World War, but a year or so before it. During the war years illegitimacy increased rapidly.
THE council intend to publish later a report on an enquiry they have conducted into a question which may help to unravel the causes of illegitimacy : Do parents who were themselves illegitimate have illegitimate children more often than parents who were legitimate?
Such evidence as is already available indicates that there is a relationship between illegitimacy and insecurity in all its forms-spiritual, psychological, material and this suggests that it may well be that a high proportion of illegitimate girls become unmarried mothers.
On grounds of practical expediency. therefore--to put it no higher -co-operation in the work of such a body as the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, and associated organisations like the Crusade of Rescue, is greatly to he commended. for it is their aim to reduce in a practical manner the atmosphere of abnormality and insecurity that so often surrounds the early life of the illegitimate child.