Real Lives: Lost and found

The number of babies abandoned at birth has tripled. HESTER LACEY investigates

The word foundling has a grimly Victorian feel to it, harking back to when babies who couldn't be looked after were abandoned. In these days of contraception, adoption and fostering it seems unlikely that anyone would have to resort to such measures. But in fact one baby is abandoned every week, a figure that has tripled in the past decade, according to the latest Government figures.

Nearly 60 children under the age of two are abandoned in England and Wales each year. Of these, 85 per cent are reunited with their mothers. But the minority that aren't face a life of uncertainty.

Margaret Kent was found on the steps of a police station when she was about three weeks old. She had been well cared for and there was a name pinned to her clothes: Sheila. She was taken to the local hospital, Orpington General in Kent, given a name, Sheila Elizabeth Ward, and kept there for eight or 10 months - she's not sure why, because there is no record of her being ill. Then she was adopted and given a new name: Margaret Ellen Pickrell.

Margaret loved her new family and had a happy, stable childhood, marred only by the death of the woman she knew as her mother when she was nine years old. By the time she was in her early teens, she had guessed that she was adopted. "In those days parents weren't as open with children, and only the immediate family knew I'd been adopted. They were sworn to secrecy." When she asked her father for the truth, he was, she says, "very upset". Even then he didn't tell her the full story. It wasn't until she wanted to get married at the age of 21 and needed her birth certificate that she realised that she had been a foundling.

She is now in her early 60s and it has taken her decades to decide to contact the foundling sub-group at the National Organisation for the Counselling of Adoptees and Parents (Norcap). "I didn't give my antecedents a thought for years," she says. "I was curious when I found out but then it would have been almost impossible to find anything out. The only way would have been to put adverts in the papers. But now I do wonder increasingly about my mother. I just feel if she is alive somewhere I'd like her to know that I'm alive and well and happy." She feels no anger towards her. "She meant me no harm. I was wrapped up, fed and cared for. I had a name. She risked being found when she left me where she did. If she was young and unmarried, which I think she must have been, she couldn't have kept a child."

Margaret has four grown-up children and eight grandchildren. "It was a conscious decision to have a large family," she says. "Family relationships mean a good deal to both me and my husband." And she has always been drawn to working with children - she was a mother's help and later a primary school teacher. "I'm a great collector and hoarder," she says. "You can probably ascribe that to needing to belong." She is currently attempting to trace any documentation she can about her circumstances, including her full birth certificate and contemporary newspaper cuttings. "I'm aware of the fact that it's probably too late. And I haven't even thought about the possibility of other relations. If anyone turned up I'd be pleased."

In fact it is unlikely that Margaret will be able to fill in the gaps in her background, according to Sandy Webster, herself a foundling, who runs the Norcap foundlings sub-group. Only one foundling from the group has ever found any relatives. It is, she says, impossible to say why numbers are again increasing. "The bottom line is that nobody knows why," she says, though she speculates that rising incidences of teenage pregnancy, abuse or mental illness may be factors.

Margaret Kent at least has come to terms with her background. "I had and have the security of a loving family. Although the other day my husband's cousin was researching the family tree and a part of me thinks, 'I'd quite like one of those too'."

Norcap: 01865 875000.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick