Abandoned baby cases have tripled

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The Independent Online
TEENAGE PREGNANCIES and lack of support for desperate women have led to the number of mothers abandoning their children trebling in 10 years.

There was more than one abandonment a week, and charities have said they were a "cause for concern", with mothers and children suffering dreadfully from an event that can mar the rest of their lives.

This month an hours-old girl, now given the name Christine, was found in a bag near the bins at an Aberdeen hospital. Last Christmas an appeal went out for the mother of "Noel" to come forward after she abandoned him at Plymouth Civic Centre after telling staff she could not cope. She was found some days later, distressed and wandering the streets.

Home Office figures show that in 1986, 22 mothers were recorded by police as abandoning a child under the age of two. Then the numbers grew steadily, to 65 in 1996.

With the UK teenage pregnancy rate one of the highest in Europe, often it is scared young girls who leave their babies to be cared for others, says NCH Action For Children. "Children are kept children for longer, what with higher education ... there's a feeling that a lot of young people find that having sex is the only way to establish their adulthood," said a spokeswoman.

Lorraine Sherr, clinical psychologist at the Royal Free Hospital, London, thinks they are not the only ones. "It is a very interesting phenomenon. In the past there wasn't enough access to contraception or there was a stigma over single motherhood but that is not the case now. One of the most common traits is that those who abandon babies are themselves abandoned. By that I mean we always forget about men in this scenario. But the baby has two parents and the woman has nearly always been abandoned by the man."

Often, these mothers are teenagers, but older women have also abandoned their children. Dr Sherr says that what is remarkable about women who abandon their babies is the lengths they go to to ensure they are safe. "They will wrap their baby in a blanket or leave a note, or call 999 from a call-box to stay they've found a baby and check the baby is found.

"This is in stark contrast to the minority who abandon their baby because they have been in denial about the pregnancy. They are far more likely to leave their baby under a bush or in a bag."

Felicity Collier, director of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, says that in most cases the birth mother and her child are reunited. "There are always a small proportion who aren't linked but now there are national appeals and the police can go round to the maternity hospital and the schools and the babies can be reunited with their mothers with appropriate support."

For those who are not, the consequences can be devastating. "There is a gnawing pain for abandoned children because, they do not know who they are," said Ms Collier.

"They do not know what happened to their mother and do not know the reasons why she did it. They try to compensate but there can be a terrible feeling of rejection."

Dr Sherr said: "For some abandoned children when they become parents they become what I call the 'reparation group'. They adjust by giving excessive love to their children and become very, very dedicated parents. Others, however, have eternal trouble with relationships, because they are always haunted by that first abandonment."