Abandoned babies 'need to know who found them'

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The Independent Online

Baabies who are abandoned at birth suffer long-term emotional and social problems, and have difficulty adjusting to parenthood themselves, because of an over-riding belief that they were "thrown away" by their mother, psychologists said yesterday.

Baabies who are abandoned at birth suffer long-term emotional and social problems, and have difficulty adjusting to parenthood themselves, because of an over-riding belief that they were "thrown away" by their mother, psychologists said yesterday.

Dr Lorraine Sherr, a clinical psychologist from the Royal Free and University Medical School, London, has reviewed the past 10 years of information on abandoned babies and has interviewed adult foundlings and says the way they were abandoned is important. She says foundlings have little knowledge about who they are, where they come from, the date of their birth, or even the person who found them who could act as a link to the past. They are often scared of parenthood or feel enormous pressure to become model parents.

"Adults who were abandoned as babies in a warm place, with a blanket or even in a hospital, take comfort in the fact that their mother put them somewhere safe," she said. "However, those that were obviously left to die ...tend to suffer much more."

The researchers, who presented their findings at the annual conference of the social psychology section of the British Psychological Society, said yesterday the person who found the baby should be registered on the birth certificate so the child had a chance of finding them in later life.

"The reaction of people who find these abandoned babies is quite remarkable," said Dr Sherr. "They tend to feel very emotionally involved with the child. However, the reality is that they are immediately shut out of the process and are left feeling bereft. I have never heard of a case where a finder has kept the child."

Her findings showed that two-thirds of the mothers of abandoned babies were not located and fathers were hardly ever mentioned; 16 per cent of those abandoned over the past 10 years were clearly left to die. Home Office figures reveal that an average of 52 babies are abandoned each year, but the number is rising steadily.

Sandra Webster, a 44-year-old nurse of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was found on a back doorstep outside a newspaper factory in King's Cross, London, at about three weeks old. "You have no idea of who your are, your date of birth, medical history or anything about your roots. I have a birthday of 21 October, but I know this is a guess."

Mrs Webster, who now has three children, two boys and a girl, said that when her youngest, Kylie, was born, she suffered from terrible post-natal depression. "With the boys I was fine. The post-natal depression with my daughter was thought to be because of my history. The fact she was a girl and could have been me and a sense of history repeating itself were all thought to play their part," she said.

Mrs Webster has set up a foundling group linked to the National Organisation for the Counselling of Adoptees and Parents. It has more than 80 members, and encourages people to go back to local newspapers to find photos of themselves and try to contact the person who found them. "It's a link with the past..." she said. "A grainy photo, the search for the mother, and the person who found us."

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