General Articles


Each year 12,000 illegitimate Canadian babies are born into a world of adoption rackets, orphanages, legal tangles and shame

MAX BRAITHWAITE November 15 1947
General Articles


Each year 12,000 illegitimate Canadian babies are born into a world of adoption rackets, orphanages, legal tangles and shame

MAX BRAITHWAITE November 15 1947


Each year 12,000 illegitimate Canadian babies are born into a world of adoption rackets, orphanages, legal tangles and shame


APPROXIMATELY one out of every 23 children born in Canada comes into the world under the dark cloud of illegitimacy. They are born to unmarried mothers. Although innocent as any other newborn babes, because of our hopelessly outdated laws, customs and attitudes, these children have two strikes against them from the moment they make their bawling entry into a hostile world.

There has been a steady rise in the Canadian illegitimacy rate in the past 15 years. From 1926 to 1930 the average was somewhat over 7,000 a year—about three per cent of the live births. But in 1945, the last year for which figures are complete, 12,000 little Canadians were born out of wedlock, 4.47% of live births. There was a slight drop in the rate during the first nine months of 1946, but this cannot yet be considered a downward trend because many children are not registered until months even years—after they are born.

The coast provinces have the highest rates. Nova Scotia, which has always led the field, had 1,238 illegitimate births out of a total of 15,527

births in 1945, or 7.9%. British Columbia was next with 1,115 illegitimate births out of a total of 18,855. This province shows the greatest rate of increase of all the provinces—from 2.3% for the 1926-30 average to 5.8% in 1945. New Brunswick has the third highest rate with 753 illegitimate births in 1945 out of a total of 13,673 births—5.5%. Quebec has by far the lowest rate of registered illegitimate births (2.9% )and has shown practically no increase since 1930.

What are the handicaps our yearly crop of 12,000 illegitimate babies face?

In the first place, they have a poorer chance of survival than other children. The latest available statistics (1940-43) show stillbirths among illegitimate children to be 38% higher than among legitimates. Canada keeps no figures on comparative infant mortality rates, but in every country where such figures are kept the rate for children born out of wedlock is much higher than for others.

Despite the best efforts of a relatively small but extremely energetic group of child welfare workers throughout, the country, those illegitimate children who survive are unreasonably and . unfairly penalized.

Take the case of Tom for example. Tom never

knew a real mother or father, but was raised by his grandparents. Everybody from school child to grandparent seemed to know the circumstances of his birth. So, being intelligent and sensitive, Tom left the neighborhood where he had grcwn up just as soon as he was able to earn his own living.

In the new district Tom did very well by himself. Got a good job and a girl and pretty well managed to forget that he was “different” from anybody else. That was in 1939.

When war broke out Tom went with some of his pals to enlist in the Air Force. He was asked to furnish a birth certificate and produced the short form which he’d had since birth. However, due to military regulation, this wouldn’t do. So, Tom was forced to get the long form which showed clearly to every one of the dozens of persons who would look at his file that he didn’t have any father. Morally, Tom was right back where he started.

In five Canadian provinces the regular birth certificate issued reveals the fact of illegitimacy. Recently a manufacturing plant, employing thousands of workers in a large eastern city, decided on a new pension scheme. This meant a birth certificate from every employee to show proof of age. Said one official, “We

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Born Out of Wedlock

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were amazed to discover how many of I our people were illegitimates. Of course it doesn’t make any difference in i our treatment of these people, but just the same I wish we hadn’t found out. It’s none of our business.”

In the Province of Quebec—which has the lowest illegitimacy rate of all the provinces, but where the largest proportion of children fail to be adopted—the words “born to unmarried parents” or some similarly damning phrase are written right on the birth certificate. Unless the child is adopted and obtains a new birth ! certificate this brand remains with him for the rest of his days.

Within the past year four provinces, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick, have adopted the practice of issuing to everybody small pocket-sized birth certificates that are fused in plastic. These documents, which serve all the purposes ordinarily required of a birth certificate, give only the name of the child, the date of birth and the date of registration. There is nothing on them to indicate legitimacy or illegitimacy. Saskatchewan is at present making plans to introduce the same system.

The Bar Sinister

Recently an attractive, dark-haired 15-year-old girl was brought into juvenile court charged with attempting to destroy herself by jumping off a bridge. She appeared to be healthy, was well-dressed and had no previous ! court record of any kind. But she had no desire to go on living. After careful questioning the judge discovered that the day before the young girl had found out through neighborhood gossip that her parents had never been married. The shock was enough to drive her to suicide.

One of the leading citizens of a town suddenly and unaccountably went berserk and killed two of his neighbors. Psychiatrists who examined him discovered that he had been so oppressed by the knowledge of his illegitimate origin that his mind had cracked under the strain.

The reason for i bis terror lies largely in the attitude which most of us have toward this extremely delicate subject. Social workers are continually being amazed at the naivete, stupidity and downright witch-hunting cruelty evident in the public attitude.

Birth registration officials in two provinces, where the short -form birth certificates are being used, told this writer that they are continually being visited by inquisitive individuals who demand to see the birth registrations of persons “under suspicion.” The “nosy Parkers” are extremely indignant and even threaten legal action when permission to dig into other people’s private affairs is refused.

A large group of people still take the attitude of scarlet-letter days. A sin has been committed and therefore everybody involved — including the child should pay and pay and pay. Others assume that there must have been something basically wrong with the parents and so the child is liable to he oversexed or otherwise queer.

The theory of degeneracy and wickedness doesn't stand up in the light of present-day findings by welfare workers and psychologists. Social workers dealing with unmarried mothers all over the country have discovered long since that girls who become pregnant out of wedlock are just about average in intelligence, morals and social standing. They may be high-school

children (27% are 19 years of age or younger), stenographers, teachers, nurses, factory workers, waitresses, or belong to any other group in the community. They come from well-todo homes as well as from the slums.

What most have in common is emotional insecurity and instability. Psychologists who have studied the reasons for promiscuity in girls and young women have come to the conclusion that their parents and home life are largely to blame. The child who has been pampered or, on the other hand, starved for affection, too closely restricted or neglected, or who has been rejected or ignored in an unhappy or broken home is liable to seek compensation elsewhere.

One school of thought even goes so far jis to hold that no pregnancy is accidental but is due to the inner need of the girl or woman to have a child.

They’re Not “Bad”

And certainly there is nothing about the illegitimate babies that makes them any different, mentally or physically, from any other newborn babies. Given any kind of a break they grow up to be useful and valuable members of the community.

Most agencies give I.Q. tests to the illegitimate children under their care. Every official that this writer talked with stated emphatically that the ratings of illegitimates match those of other children in the same age group.

There is no such thing as an inherently bad child, regardless of the circumstances of his birth.

And what are we doing to see that this important 4%% of our infant population gets a decent break in life? What care and protection are given to the Canadian child born out of wedlock?

The care and protection of illegitimate children are the responsibility of the provinces. So, in the nine provinces, we have nine sets of laws, regulations and practices dealing with the care and protection of mothers and children and with adoption. These laws range from good to bad, depending upon the wealth, traditions, customs’ and attitudes of the citizens of the province concerned.

Each province has a department of welfare, or its equivalent. In most provinces children’s aid societies, privately organized, render protective service including maintenance and guardianship.

Some of these (as in Ontario which has 46 societies) are supported by municipal grants of so much a child. In Alberta the provincial department looks after all the children and there are no children’s aid societies. In British Columbia and Saskatchewan the provincial departments take over the work in areas where there are no children’s aid societies. In Quebec most of the work is done by the church, although the provincial government gives a grant of $90 for every child adopted.

Besides these children’s aid societies there are throughout the country numerous maternity homes, children’s homes and adoption centres organized under private or religious auspices.

Where We Fall Down

Maternity homes offer care and advice before and after confinement to any unmarried mothers who wish to take advantage of the service. In the years between 1930 and 1943 the rate of illegitimate stillbirths fell by 38% as compared with a drop of 17% in the legitimate rate.

It is in the handling of the children after they are born that we are falling

down. Whether the illegitimate child will grow to be a healthy, happy, useful citizen depends largely upon the care and skill used in placing him for adoption during the first year or two. As one prominent social worker put it, “At present when people are clamoring for babies and will go to almost any extreme to obtain one for adoption, the baby of illegitimate birth needs the law’s protection from the hazards of an undesirable home.”

And in Canada they are not getting that protection. Welfare workers with whom this writer talked were unanimous in their opinion that the greatest single menace to child welfare is the practice of private placements for adoption. There is no law to prevent anyone—incensed parent, kindly relative, helpful doctor or whoever else may be handy from placing a child in a home for adoption. It is true that each private placement must be investigated by a Children’s Aid Society, the clergy or some other agency before the court will grant an adoption order. However, by the time the investigation takes place the child has been with the adoptive parents for from six months to two years. And, while the investigators may be convinced that the parents and child are completely unsuited, they have no legal grounds for preventing the adoption.

To understand the menace of private placement it is necessary to take a quick look at the methods of a good welfare agency, adequately staffed with well-trained social workers.

In the first place the mother, not the agency, decides what is to be done with the child. She may decide to keep it or to give it out for adoption. Miss Ruby McKay, Superintendent of Child Welfare for British Columbia, pretty well summed up the attitude of good social workers when she said, We try to help the mother reach the best decision regarding the child s future, hut we definitely do not press for either keeping it or giving it up.

The mother is never urged to marry the child’s father just to give it. a name, although the law in every province provides that marriage of the natural parents—no matter how long after the birth of the child—legitimizes the child. Welfare workers feel that an unhappy home environment is worse than no home at all.

If the mother decides to give her child up the agency takes care of placing it for adoption. This is done with the greatest of care. Bert Beaumont, Director of Child Welfare for Ontario, says, “A baby is not a bundle of merchandise to be handled by just anybody.”

À social worker thoroughly investigates the prospective adoptive parents. Since most agencies have a long waiting list of couples wishing to adopt babies they can afford to be fussy. Also, the agency carefully considers the child’s intelligence and background to make sure that the baby and its new parents “match.” A professor and his wife want a child who will go to college when he is old enough; a farmer may not be so particular about this.

How Much Secrecy?

Good agencies advise the parents to inform the adopted child of the fact that he is adopted just as soon as the child can understand. They recommend using the word ‘ adoption right from the beginning.

Another extremely delicate and important question is whether the natural parents and the illegitimate child should know each other’s identity and ever get together after adoption. In most cases a clean break is best, for both. But child welfare workers have

discovered that often the adopted child on reaching maturity develops an overpowering curiosity about his natural mother.

One worker cited the case of X, a young man of 23 who had grown up in a good home, had a good job, was married and about to become a father. He was a happy, successful, welladjusted individual. But he became obsessed with the idea of finding his real mother and came to the agency through which he’d been adopted, seeking enlightenment. The superintendent “pulled” the old file and looked up the facts. He discovered that X’s mother was living in the same city, that she was a woman of extremely doubtful character with two grown daughters, the result of a common-law union with another man. Both of the daughters were of doubtful character.

The superintendent told X the truth. That his mother was well, that she was provided for, that there was nothing her son could do for her and that it was best for everybody if mother and son never saw each other. X was satisfied and the matter was dropped.

“Those three could have ruined that boy’s life,” the worker explained.

The Export of Children

According to social workers, doctors, since they come into contact with many cases, are the worst offenders when it comes to private placements. A children’s aid official pointed out, “Their intentions may be good, but they just haven’t the training, time, or facilities to do the work. It’s not their field and they should keep out of it. As a matter of fact, medical students of at least one university, McGill, are being advised by their professors to put unmarried mothers in touch with proper agencies and to keep out of the adoption field.

Practically all “baby rackets,” “black markets” and other dubious practices that from time to time hit the newspaper headlines are due to private placements of children.

Each year a number of Canadian children are adopted by families in the United States. Edmonton, Alta., Montreal and Saint John, N.B., are the chief points of export. According to Dr. Charlotte Whit ton, who recently issued a scathing report on Alberta’s “unhappily casual adoption system, more than 60 babies went from that province last year. The Rev. I aul Contant, Director of La Société d Adoption et do Protection de L’Enfance in Montreal, who placed 861 children in 1946, estimates that about 35 babies will be placed across the border this year.

While most adoption officials do not agree with such long-distance placing, both C. B. Hill and Father Contant say that they work through the children’s aid societies of the home states and that all homes are carefully investigated.

But the real tragedies among illegitimate children are the ones who are never adopted—those who are kept by the mother, are unadoptable because of some mental or physical defect, or those for whom there is no demand.

If the mother decides to keep her child she receives the regular Family Allowance: five dollars per month until the child is five years of age, six dollars from six to nine, seven dollars from 10 to 12 and eight dollars from 13 to 15. In only four provinces may unmarried mothers receive mother’s or widow’s allowances and then only under certain specific conditions: in B. C. if the unmarried mother lived with the child’s father in the belief that she was married to him; in Alberta if the unmarried mother was living in the province

in marital relations with the father at the time of his death and five years immediately preceding it and the children are registered in his name; in Saskatchewan if the unmarried mother has made a reasonable effort to provide a suitable home for her child and legally to obtain maintenance from the father; in Manitoba if in special cases the Child Welfare Board deems it in the interest of such children.

To force support from the father in all provinces the unmarried mother must haul him into court and get an affiliation and maintenance order against him. Since this means a public scandal most mothers would just rather not.

Legally the unmarried mother and her child are in a class by themselves. In Quebec and Nova Scotia illegitimate children cannot inherit from the estates of their fathers or mothers if there is no will. And in Quebec the mother does not inherit from the intestate estate of her illegitimate child. In Ontario the illegitimate child may inherit from the mother’s intestate estate only if she has no other lawful children and never from the father’s. In Alberta he may inherit from the'father’sintestate estate only if the father has no lawful children. In only six provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) does the illegitimate child inherit through the mother as if legitimate.

Those children who do not stay with t he mother become wards of children’s aid societies or of municipal or provincial governments. Their support often depends upon charity through community chest orothersubscriptions.

In most provinces the foster-home method has replaced the large institutions. Children are placed with foster parents who look after them for a very small boarding fee while the children’s aid society provides clothing, medical care and supervision. Cost per child varies from 85c to $1.04 per day. There is always a shortage of good foster homes possessing what one juvenile judge called “good old-fashioned Scotch I ’ res by terian disci pline. ”

School for Adoption

In the province of Quebec most Catholic children are placed in large institutions and moved from one to the other as they get older. In Youville Creche, just out of Montreal, for instance, there are some 700 children— mostly illegitimate—under five years of age.

The situation there is just the opposite from that prevailing elsewhere in Canada. There are far more children than there are Catholic families wishing to adopt them. Children living in large institutions are not so apt to be adopted as those in foster homes. Lacking individual care, they are inclined to be backward and shy. Most of the girls are adopted but there is a very low demand for boys.

To counteract this situation one of the most unusual and successful institutions in North America, L’Ecole Maternelle de la Nativité, was opened on boulevard St. Michel in Montreal two years ago. Here in a large, ultramodern building, situated on about 50 acres of playground, 250 especially selected boys between the ages of two and six years are literally schooled for adoption.

They play, work, eat and sleep in groups of 10, over each of which there is a specially trained teacher and a nursemaid. The home is equipped with everything the children could possibly need to encourage their physical and mental development,

including a gymnasium, swimming pool, every kind of outdoor apparatus imaginable, an auditorium and stage for concerts, and a completely equipped nursery schoolroom for each group. The experiment is proving a huge success, raising the adoption rate from less than one child a month to 12.

But a great deal more than such measures, successful as they may be, is needed to give Canadian illegitimate children a better break.

The first step towards solving the problem, social workers agree, is to cut down on the number of children being born out of wedlock.

Sex education in high schools, more and better training of parents, and improved recreational and employment facilities for young girls are considered as “musts” in cutting down on the number of illegitimate births.

The lack of uniformity in adoption laws and regulations of the various provinces is a stumbling block to good adoptions. If prospective adoptive parents move from one province to another while t he adoption is in progress the difference in forms and rules causes annoying delay and may even make the adoption impossible. At present, a committee headed by Clarence Halliday, executive director of the Ottawa and Carlton County Children’s Aid Society, is studying the problem and will make recommendations to the provincial governments concerned.

More Experts Needed

Most social workers agree that we need laws preventing private placements. All adoptions, they say, should be through competent licensed agencies. But this in turn means that we will need more and bet ter staffed children’s aid societies. According to Miss K. I’. Burns, director of child welfare in the Canadian Welfare Council, by far the biggest detriment to good work is t he lack of properly trained welfare workers Right now there are between 700 and 800 desperately needed for jobs in every province. Miss Burns pointed out that there was not one properly trained child welfare worker in the whole of Prince Edward Island.

Welfare work is now a profession requiring a B. A. degree and two years in a school of social work. 'Fop starting salary in Canada is $1,900 a year. Between 100 and 150 graduate each year from the seven schools of social work in the Dominion. This is barely enough to replace the girls who get married, let alone swell the ranks by anything like the numbers needed. I -ast year the Federal Government gave a grant of $100,000 for scholarships. This year this was cut in half.

There is, in fact, a big need for more money in the whole field of child welfare. Mrs. Muriel McRae, director of the Protestant Foster Home Centre in Montreal, an institution that receives no government grants, told this writer that unless more money was forthcoming from somewhere the centre would have to cut down on the number of children it could handle.

Mrs. McRae believes that good, reputable adoption agencies should be licensed to charge a standard fee for the thorough professional service they give.

Some social workers believe that all child welfare work should, like education, be supported by taxation. Others think not, but say that the public generally should be more aware of its responsibilities and contribute more generously to Community Chests.

All are agreed that a great deal more money and a change in laws, regulations and attitudes are needed to give our illegitimate children a better break. ★