The proverbial newborn wrapped in a blanket and left on a doorstep, exposing the child to the whims of fate, is a sad part of our human history. But abandonment is a complex problem with many different causes and consequences, some of them devastating. Some parents, for example, may choose to abandon their children because of religious beliefs or morals that forbid them from using birth control or having a baby. Other reasons for parental abandonment are financial and emotional difficulties. And, of course, some parents simply can’t raise their children because they are sick or have died.
These heartbreaking situations are mirrored in every country of the world. In fact, the number of abandoned children is staggering. The majority of those children live in developing countries, such as Uganda, where our partner organization Angels Of Hope works to help create a future for these young children.
According to the United Nations, more than 3 million children are abandoned worldwide and are left without a family to care for them. Abandoned children can suffer from a myriad of psychological, physical and emotional problems, including poor self-esteem, difficulty emotionally attaching to other caregivers, guilt and anxiety. They can also experience insomnia, clinginess, eating disorders and depression.
Those feelings can be even more acute for children who have been sexually abused or physically harmed by their parents. They can become extremely withdrawn and detached, struggling to emotionally bond with other adults and can develop a belief that it is not safe to trust others. They may exhibit behaviors such as substance abuse or self-harm and struggle to have healthy relationships.
When you consider how these children can’t even understand why they were left and often blame themselves, it is no wonder that they struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. They may also have unhelpful views of themselves, their worldviews and how they see other people.
In some cases, parents who abandon their children in a rash decision later realize the mistake and wish to regain a relationship with them. But, for most abandoned children, that is not a possibility. And that is the real tragedy.
The 11 abandoned children at Mary Bridge are just a sliver of the 1,300-1,500 kids who show up in the hospital’s emergency room each year. Some of them stay for weeks or even months.
For these abandoned children, finding a new home is a long road and often times it requires a lot of support. If you know a child who has experienced abandonment, be sure to take the time to listen and offer support. It will be a journey that will require your patience and compassion. Respect their timeliness and let them know that you will be there for them every step of the way. And, remember, if they ask you for help, they really need it.