The first-ever dedicated support network for unmarried mothers had been set up as early as 1918, when The National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child (now Gingerbread) was formed in response to a concern about higher death rates among illegitimate children than legitimate ones, particularly during the First World War. Yet even today there are traces of this attitude: the economic downturn seems to have almost encouraged disdain for single mothers on benefits in certain parts of the media – which blames them for everything from causing 'broken Britain' to wilfully destroying the traditional family. With this family unit on the rise, it’s surprising the awareness of unmarried parent’s rights isn’t higher. Nowadays, it seems incredible that women should have had to hide their 'shame' – a Victorian word still in common currency in the 1950s – in such forbidding institutions, austere relics of 19th-century workhouses and 18th-century penitentiaries. If not Civil partners at the time of treatment for having children, then the non-birth parent can acquire parental responsibility by agreement or jointly registering the birth. Her GP referred her instead to a hotel in Brighton that took in pregnant girls as skivvies and housed them in the cockroach-infested basement in dorm beds. The existing Open Comments threads will continue to exist for those who do not subscribe to Independent Premium. Only the most visible, vulnerable cases – the unsupported women – were ruthlessly singled out for scapegoating, since they had been seen as a drain on the parish purse ever since the first Poor Law in 1576. And I further discovered from her address records that she had stayed in a total of three such mother-and-baby homes. Birdhurst was just one of three such institutions in which my mother stayed; the first was run by a religious charity called Skene Moral Welfare, a forerunner of Social Services, while another, in Hampstead, was run by the then London County Council. Her adoptive parents came to visit her, along with the vicar who told her that she had committed a sin. This means she has complete authority to make any major and minor decisions regarding her child’s welfare. We know that time can be critical, and that's why we offer a free call back service. Meanwhile, a moralistic undertow to British welfare policies from the 1980s has arguably targeted them, too. In many cases it is vital for the child's needs, that mothers are able to access benefits and obtain child support from the other parent. An unmarried couple can never be ‘common law married’ because common law marriage or common law spouses no longer exists in UK law and hasn’t done since 1753! Six weeks before her due date, she was sent on to the Edwardian Birdhurst Lodge, run by the evangelical Mission of Hope. Want an ad-free experience?Subscribe to Independent Premium. The reality is that now mothers can be the primary caregiver and/or the primary breadwinner, as well as joint caregivers and joint breadwinners, the roles of many mothers have changed while many others prefer a more traditional role in their parenting. That seemed rather grand-sounding for my poor mum, so I investigated and found that a health centre now stood on the site. At 40, my mother was young for her age, and knew little of the facts of life after a very religious upbringing in south-east London with a Baptist foster family. Are you sure you want to delete this comment? Without family support, the teenaged Gwen had no alternative but to give up her daughter for adoption. Fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility for their children unless they are married to the mother. All biological mothers automatically have rather basic legal rights and responsibilities known as parental responsibility. Hi Colin, I wanted to express my gratitude for the way you assisted myself whilst fighting for joint custody of my children, you were there to talk me through every step of the way and explained everything perfectly. Hi I'm Jeff. Unmarried couples should have more rights if they split up, the top family judge in England and Wales has said. I suppose there is a fundamentalist Christianity that feels particularly threatened, because of the nuclear family being a relatively recent creation in our society, and that fear does go very deep," argues Thane. Yet Thane sees history now repeating itself as the recession provides an excuse for a return to the punitive rhetoric of the 1980s and 1990s, as lone mothers become the weakest link in the embattled welfare state. The problems these mothers face in maintaining and strengthening their relationships with their children are as substantial as many fathers, due to the often substantial focus on the primary carer parent by the family court system. And that was how I found out about the hidden history of my birthplace, only once hinted at by my secretive mother when she had told me how other girls she knew had "cried and cried for weeks" after giving up their babies for adoption. Anne was renamed Jan Hodgson by her adoptive parents.