Adopted children often suffer from a combination of physical and emotional symptoms. They may have trouble sleeping, develop feelings of deep anger and resentment, and suffer from chronic fatigue. If the child has one parent, it is important to be aware of the child’s symptoms and assure him or her that the other parent will not abandon him or her. The child may seek medical attention for self-injury, or seek psychological counseling for coping with abandonment. In addition, he or she may discuss suicide with the remaining parent.
Economic difficulties can break up a family. In Paris, for example, 20% of live births were abandoned by parents. In Naples in the 1950s, Morris West described ragamuffins. Today, the United Nations estimates there are 60 million abandoned children in the world. In the United States alone, 7,000 children are abandoned each year. But this is not a universal problem. Across the globe, economic challenges, and divorce have caused families to disintegrate.
In the early modern period, the history of foundlings and abandoned children has varied radically. In Europe, for example, abandoned children were commonly found in institutions. However, as public welfare for mothers and child adoption became commonplace, the number of such institutions declined. In contrast, scholarly studies of foundlings and abandoned children have focused on their experiences outside of institutions. In contrast, the authors of this volume give an introductory essay that examines the concept of child abandonment and how it relates to the study of public welfare. Throughout the course of the book, they discuss the various contexts and problems associated with abandoned children.
In La Paz, Bolivia, researchers studied 124 street children who had been abandoned. The study included children aged three to eighteen, with 39 (31%) being female. The average age of these street children was 4.1 years, and their origins were mostly in homes of abject poverty and lower socioeconomic status. The reasons these children became street kids were physical and mental abuse, neglect, and abandonment. But the study also highlighted the importance of street youth advocacy for the recovery of street children.
Studies of abandoned children in literature have revealed that the number of abandoned children has decreased to as low as 13%-3% over the last few years. Yet, the number of children who are abandoned by their adoptive parents has increased over the past decade. For example, in the Mahabharata, Karna’s mother is never reconciled with him and dies in a battle with his legitimate son. In Hansel and Gretel, the children of the Queen Brunette and Princess Blondine were picked up by a Corsair after seven days at sea. In addition to their fateful journey, the children of these two princesses refuse to leave their adopted parents.
The United States is not as prone to neglect as the poorer countries of the world. Nevertheless, it remains a significant issue nationwide. According to Spratt, “neglect is the most common type of maltreatment a child can suffer. Neglect has both psychological and social consequences.” According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, neglect accounted for 78% of all cases of child maltreatment in the U.S. in 2010, outnumbering physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse combined.