Why Do Some Parents Resort to Child Abandonment, What's The Law

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It is extremely difficult for children to survive without parents, especially when they need their support for almost everything. Being abandoned by parents often results in children becoming physically and emotionally vulnerable. That’s why the US state laws explain what is child abandonment, strict laws, and its related implications for parents to understand the importance of protecting the child’s interests. When parents fail as caregivers to nurture and guide their offspring, it may result in children growing up to be severely maladjusted with issues ranging from neediness and eating disorders to substance abuse and criminal activities. To avoid this happening and know more about the effects of reckless abandonment on the child, keep reading this post.

What Is Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment is when a parent deliberately withholds financial, physical, and emotional support towards a child. Relinquishing parental responsibilities or cutting off contact with a child for a long period in case of sole or joint custody also comes under child abandonment.

Child abandoning can be of two types:

  • Physical abandonment: It occurs when the parent leaves the child on the doorsteps of a stranger or leaves the child alone at home and disappears.
  • Emotional abandonment: Even though the parent and the child are living in the same house, if the parent offers inadequate or no physical contact and emotional support, then it is known as emotional abandonment.

Failing to participate in child reunion programs and not responding to the child protection proceedings are also considered child abandonment in some states of the US.

Why Do Parents Abandon Their Children?

No parent would want to abandon their children, but some situations could force parents to make this difficult decision. The following are the likely reasons for child abandonment.

  • Some parents abandon their children due to financial troubles, as they would not be able to provide for their basic needs. In such situations, the survival of the parents themselves is at stake forcing them to decide to leave their child.
  • When a parent is not emotionally stable, they would not be in a healthy state of mind to take care of the children. The parent may have a history of mental illness, or abandonment may be due to postnatal depression, which could last for months, making it a daunting task for the parent to look after the child. It might lead to abandonment eventually.
  • Parents addicted to alcohol or drugs also tend to lack the ability to nurture and support their children.

What To Do If You Find An Abandoned Child?

If a child is found abandoned near your house or in a public place, you must call the relevant authorities immediately and hand the child to the state. Even though there is no prosecution, if someone decides to keep the child (unless there is no abuse), however, they would not have legal rights. If the birth mother claims for the child, they should return the child to her unless the child is legally adopted.

What Happens To Children Who Get Abandoned?

All states in the US have devised laws to protect abandoned children as well as their mothers if they want to abandon the child. For example, Michigan State established a law named “Safe Haven” that protects new mothers from prosecution if they drop the child in designated safe locations, such as any hospital, the fire department, police station, or by calling 911. The child would then become a ward of the state, and efforts will be made to locate the mother or the father.

The law further states that all children who have been dropped at the safe locations will either get adopted or returned to the mother (if no abuse is suspected), who will still hold the rights to the child as long as the child is under 18 years of age. However, the mother might have to go through a court procedure.

If the child gets adopted, then the birth mother’s rights get terminated. But, if the mother changes her mind after turning away the child, she could appeal to the court within the 21 days appeal period or before the adoption order is effective.

Parents are one of the first people a child would trust and love. When such people abandon them, it would have a huge impact on them. At the same time, being subjected to neglect and abuse is also not acceptable. So, all the laws in the country are designed to protect the interests of the child.

Child Abandonment Laws

In the US, child abandonment is considered a criminal cause of action in most of the states who can classify ‘abandonment’ differently within their own judicial system. If a child is left without any care and nourishment or left behind by the parent, the court would order the parent to take the child into their home or provide other alternatives.

In most states, the law requires consent from the child’s parents to terminate their parental rights and duties during adoption. In case the child’s parents cannot be located, the child would be transferred to the state home and put forth for adoption.

The states also have laws to prevent child neglect and abandonment. A few of such programs include:

  • Early Head Start-Home Visiting
  • Family Check-up
  • Healthy Families
  • Healthy Start
  • Healthy Steps
  • Home Instructions for Parents of Preschool Youngsters
  • Nurse-Family partnership
  • Public Health Nursing Early Intervention Program for Adolescent Mothers
  • Safecare
  • Parent Support Groups
  • Preventing the recurrence of abuse or neglect

All these programs aim at visiting and educating the parents and pregnant women of low-income families to prevent child abandonment (1).

How To Prove Child Abandonment?

Proving child abandonment comes into the picture when another person wants to adopt the child legally or when one of the parents wants to get sole custody of the child. To prove that a child has been abandoned, there should be a specific period of time when the parent and the child are not in contact; usually, it is one year (this may differ from state to state).

However, a parent does not have the right to forfeit their parental rights as they please. Even in the case of clear willful abandonment, the court would terminate the parental rights only when there is another parental figure willing to adopt the child.

How To Explain Abandonment To An Adopted Child?

Abandonment is a sensitive topic to explain to a child, as they would not understand why their parents have left them. When not explained properly, the child might blame themself for the abandonment. Anticipate their questions and prepare yourself to answer them truthfully and rationally. Here are a few tips that may help you explain it to an adopted child or an abandoned child.

  • Take your time to explain the abandonment to the child—do not rush and neither put off the conversation. Observe the child’s behavior for some time. Start the conversation only when you are confident that they can handle it or when the child brings it up and insists on knowing the truth.
  • Clearly explain the reasons for abandonment. An ‘abandoned’ child may feel guilty, rejected, unloved, and unwanted.
  • Assure them that it is neither their fault nor their parent’s fault; at the same time, acknowledge the pain, hurt and sense of loss felt by the child.
  • Saying negative things about the abandoned parent might cause more damage. Do not make them hate their parents as such negative emotions could turn them violent.
  • If the parent is abusive or violent, then explain the consequences of visiting them. Do not keep the child in the dark and refrain from visiting their parents.
  • Answer all the questions the child might have with patience, calmness, and empathy. This would help to calm down their anxieties.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is emotional abandonment abuse?

Yes, emotional abandonment may be considered a form of emotional abuse as it may cause a substantial negative impact on the child’s psychological development.

2. What does fear of abandonment look like?

Fear of abandonment is a feeling that a loved one would leave. It may be related to traumatic experiences in childhood. People with a fear of abandonment may be very sensitive, find it difficult to trust others, make friends or commit to relationships, promptly get attached and leave as fast, and have anger issues and self-blame. Such people may often get involved in unhealthy relationships.

You might have got a hold of the basics of child abandonment and the possible reasons why some parents might resort to it. However, abandonment might have severe consequences on a child’s mental and emotional aspects. They might grow up to be socially disconnected, have trust issues, emotional reliance, and feelings of dejection and helplessness. Therefore, most states in the US have imposed vigilant laws to protect children. Moreover, several state government programs are designed to educate parents to prevent child abandonment.

Key Pointers

  • Child abandonment is of two types, physical and emotional.
  • Parental emotional instability, financial issues, or drug and alcohol abuse may push the parent to abandon their child.
  • Some state laws to prevent child abandonment include programs such as family checkups, safe care, and parent support groups.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Preventive Programs; Child Welfare Information Gateway; U.S Department of Health & Human Services
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sanjana lagudu

Sanjana did her graduation in Pharmacy from Andhra University and post graduation in management from GITAM Institute of Management. It was during her first job, she recognized her skills in writing and began working as a freelance writer. Later, she completely moved into content writing and began working as a full-time content writer. Sanjana's articles in MomJunction cover topics related to... more

Sadhvi Nishtha Om

Monk Sadhvi Nishtha Om is a practicing psychologist and psychotherapist in India. She has worked with children, adolescents and adults using tools such as Therapeutic Meditation, Inner Child Healing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Emotional Empowerment Technique (EET) in a career spanning more than a decade. She holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Delhi, India.... more