Children are the most vulnerable victims of poverty, disease and malnutrition. Abandoned by their parents and other relatives, they are left alone to fend for themselves, scrounging for food in squalid shacks or clinging to the streets – where they are frequently exposed to violence, sexual abuse, and even death.
The definition of abandonment varies by state, but generally it includes deserting a child without thought for the safety or welfare of that child. It also can include a parent or caregiver refusing to communicate with or respond to requests from Child Protective Services. In a few states, abandonment can also include leaving a young child at home alone for an extended period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or death.
In 2021, children who were abandoned showed up at the emergency room of Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, 11 times — just a small slice of the 1,300-1,500 kids that visit its ER each year. The children ranged in age from 7-17, and most had been declared dependents of the state.
According to law enforcement officials, the reason why these children had been left in the hospital was that they were either being abused or neglected. In some cases, a child’s parents had been killed or died of natural causes or because of a drug overdose. In other cases, the parents had been incarcerated and could not care for their kids.
Whether the child was a newborn or an older child, the hospital workers asked for help from the county’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). DCYF workers would take custody of a kid who was abandoned in the ER and work to find a family to care for them.
But the system is overburdened and DCYF can’t keep up with demand. The result has been that hundreds of kids have to sleep in hotel rooms or offices until permanent foster or adoptive families can be found, Kautz said.
One of the biggest reasons why abandonment is so prevalent is that there are not enough homes willing to take in abandoned children, especially young children. This is due to the lengthy and expensive process of fostering and adopting. Another factor is the high rate of mental illness among parents. In some cases, parental mental illness stems from a complex cycle that begins with traumatic childbirth and continues with poor pregnancies, postpartum depression and addiction to drugs or alcohol.
The best way to help a kid who is experiencing abandonment or has experienced it in the past is to be available and show them love and support. But the most important step is to identify the root cause of the abandonment or neglect and get it addressed before more damage can be done. If you know someone who needs help, please call our 24-hour hotline. We are here to listen and help. And if you are looking for an opportunity to help, please consider making a donation today.