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Child abandonment

Child abandonment
The abandoned child is called a foundling or throwaway (as opposed to a runaway).

Poverty is often a root cause of child abandonment. Persons in cultures with poor social welfare systems who are not financially capable of taking care of a child are more likely to abandon him/her. Political conditions, such as difficulty in adoption proceedings, may also contribute to child abandonment, as can the lack of institutions, such as orphanages, to take in children whom their parents can not support.

Societies with strong social structures and liberal adoption laws tend to have lower rates of child abandonment.

Historically, many cultures practice abandonment of infants, called "exposure." Although such children would survive if taken up by others, exposure is often considered a form of infanticide -- as described by Tertullian in his Apology: "it is certainly the more cruel way to kill. . . by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs". This form of child abandonment is much more widely spread throughout societies, being used even by the rich to dispose of unwanted children, particularly girls. Many of these children were indeed taken up, for slavery and prostitution.

Early laws governing child abandonment often prescribed that the person who had taken up the child, either to adopt or to raise as a slave, was entitled to the child. This both discourages the practice of exposure and encourages strangers to take up exposed children.

Today, abandonment of a child is considered to be a serious crime in many jurisdictions, because the result is that the child and the other parent, if any, often end up on welfare. For example, in the U.S. state of Georgia, it is a misdemeanor to willfully and voluntarily abandon a child, and a felony to abandon one's child and leave the state. In 1981, Georgia's escalation of abandonment from a misdemeanor to a felony - based solely upon the defendant's flight from the state - was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A child experiences abandonment on some level every day. When a parent goes to work, the child feels abandoned. When the child is dropped off at day care, he or she feels abandoned. When parents are separated and living in different homes, the child feels abandoned when one parent brings them to the other's home.

Abandonment is a part of the human experience and is not necessarily a bad thing that "should" be avoided at all costs. Having to leave a child with someone other than the birth parents will be experienced, by the child, on some level as abandonment. Since there's no way to avoid the reality of life, the one thing we can do is be aware of the reality of abandonment and minimize its potentially negative effects.

How can you lessen the feelings of pain and disconnection when you have to be apart from your child or children? Here is a simple step you can take.

Make Your Presence Known When Marion's daughter, Genevieve, began going to school, Marion was keenly aware that they were apart every day for the first time. Marion decided to show her love and enduring connection with her daughter by making her a lunch every day. After putting the lunch in the bag, she would add a little note with a message of love and support. Genevieve would look forward to lunchtime everyday and her friends did too. They would make a ritual out of sitting down together and getting settled and focused, and then Gen would open her bag and dig for her note and read it to herself and her friends. A mother's heartfelt gesture that took only a little forethought made a tremendous impact not only on a daughter, but on other mother's daughters. As the years progressed, Marion became more creative and found tear off calendars with empowering daily messages on them. She would use these pages to write her messages on, and then Gen and her friends would have a thought or inspiration to ponder and discuss. This can be done for any age level. If you have a pre-schooler who is traveling from one parent's home to the other, you can put a loving picture, or a picture of yourself with the child in their bag so that they will have you near them. For older children there are tear off calendars on any subject. Choosing one that speaks directly to your child's interests lets them know that you listen and support what they love.

In the field of child psychology, there's a strategy for supporting children who have to leave their birth parents on a regular basis. The strategy is to use something called a "transitional object". For my 2 ? year old granddaughter, her transitional object is her stuffed dog, "spud". When her father picks her up for her weekends away from her mom, she always makes sure to take Spud along. This was started before she could walk and her stuffed animal has been a link for her to her mom's home when she has to be away. This concept can be translated to other objects as well. Not wanting to face the predicament of not being able to find Spud, her parents introduced Spike, a stuffed cat, as an alternative early on. The actual object is not as important as how it is presented by the parent who will be separated from the child. If the child is already attached to ONE object only, then you can introduce another one by having the two go together.

Action Step: The next time you need to be apart from your children, plan ahead. Make your presence known for your child - so that they experience you even when away from you. Feel free to use the suggestions above, or create your own unique way of letting your children know that you are with them even when physically apart. When you see something small and especially significant to the child, getting them an unexpected treat and putting it in their lunch can be a delightful surprise. Holidays are easy to do this sort of thing (a button on Valentine's day; some green shamrock confetti on St. Patrick's Day, etc). And, unexpected surprises, just because you love them, are the best ones of all. One word of caution: Don't get elaborate or give too many THINGS. This is about heart-felt connections and has more to do with how you feel about the child than what you buy for them. If you use stuff like candy or toys, you will set yourself up for disappointments and expectations on the part of the child to be given more and more. The use of "things" shifts the focus to what is being given instead of the feelings being expressed.

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