What Is Child Abandonment And Why Do Some Parents Resort To It?

What Is Child Abandonment And Why Do Some Parents Resort To It web

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Children are fragile and vulnerable until they reach a certain age, and it is the parent’s responsibility to nurture and look after them. So, what happens when parents fail in fulfilling such duties or abandon their children?

Children will have a hard time surviving alone in this world without their parent’s care and guidance. It is the reason why all states in the US have strict laws to protect the interests of children who have been abandoned. Read this post to understand what happens when a child is abandoned, along with the legal and emotional aspects of child abandonment.

What Is Child Abandonment?

Child abandonment is when a parent 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 an 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.
  • When a parent is not emotionally stable, they would not be in a state to take care of the children. Such cases might lead to abandonment.
  • Parents who are 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 at a public place, then the child should be turned 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 of the US have devised laws to protect abandoned children as well as their mothers if she wants to abandon the child. For example, Michigan State established a law named “Safe Haven” that protects new mothers from prosecution if they dropped 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. 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 picture when another person wants to adopt the child legally, or when one of the parents wants to get the sole custody of the child. To prove that a child has been abandoned, there should be a period of time when the parent and the child are not in contact; usually, it is one year (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. Here are a few tips that may help you to explain it to an adopted child or an abandoned child.

  • Take your time to explain the abandonment to the child—do not rush. Observe the child’s behavior for some time. Start the conversation only when you are confident that they can handle it.
  • Clearly explain the reasons for abandonment. Assure them that it is neither their fault nor their parent’s fault.
  • 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 them from visiting their parents.
  • Answer all the questions the child might have with patience and endurance. This would help to calm down their anxieties.

The consequences of child abandonment can affect the child’s mental state; they tend to become emotionally scarred and distant. Some children may also grow up to have low self-esteem, trust issues, emotional dependency, helplessness, etc., which is why all the states in the US have imposed strict laws to protect the interest of the children.


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 and post graduation in 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 new parenting and relationships. A fitness enthusiast... more