Nobody's Child, by Kate Adie

What effect does being abandoned at birth have on a child?

Christine Simms was a taxi babe, found in a black cab in London in December 1949. "A woman of about 40 was seen to place this baby - or this 'parcel' - in the cab and hurry away," says Simms. Dr Ian Palmer, another London foundling, was discovered in a red call-box in 1953, grew up to become a military psychiatrist, and once found himself making an emergency call in that same box.

Although few of the foundlings Adie interviewed were able to trace information about their parents, some discovered their birth was surrounded by scandal. David McBride was found by the wife of a Belfast doctor in her car in 1962. No one came forward with any information. When McBride eventually got his file from social services, he discovered they had delayed his adoption by his Protestant foster parents by nine years because they feared the complication of a Catholic mother stepping forward to claim him. The issue of a suitable home for found children has caused consternation throughout the history of British adoption.

While Adie is obviously a consummate interviewer (she was adopted herself), the book is weakest when attempting to sketch the larger social and political issues behind the history of foundlings. Adie mentions the scandal of "baby-farms" in 19th-century America but not the high-profile murder trials in the UK of women who "adopted" babies. These cases of corrupt "baby-farmers" gave adoption such a bad name that Parliament put off drafting legislation in England until after the First World War.

Neither is there much insight into the circumstances in which women still abandon infants. Adie suggests that they may be frightened of prosecution but, given that most are little more than children themselves, who deliver a baby on their own after concealing their pregnancy, this seems more of an educated guess than a researched conclusion.

But Adie has lifted the lid on a subject that demands another, deeper, look.

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