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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 12:15 GMT
What happens to abandoned babies?
The Magazine answers...

Abandoned babies Joseph and Holly
Babies are often abandoned where they will be found
Newborn twins have been left in a hospital car park in Birmingham and police hope their appeals to find the mother mean the family will be reunited. But what usually happens to abandoned babies?

They have been named Joseph and Holly by nurses at the hospital where the newborn twins were abandoned. The "adorable" brother and sister were left in a sleeping bag inside a supermarket box in the car park.

In 2004 a total of 49 babies were abandoned in the UK, according to the most recent Home Office statistics. This figure was down on 57 in the previous year. A lot of parents are never traced, leaving their offspring with no name and no knowledge of their family.

Slightly more baby boys are abandoned than girls, according to research by the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. Infants are most likely to be left in the first few hours after birth and in places where they are likely to be found.


There are no national guidelines for dealing with such cases, but usually when a baby is abandoned police, health care professionals and social services get involved. Often the child is kept at the hospital for a few days and then given to foster carers. Eventually they will be put forward for adoption.

It is a criminal offence to abandon a child under the age of two, as is cruelty or neglect of a child. Many police forces now have officers specially trained to deal with such cases. Appeals to the parents are made as sensitively as possible, as they are often in a traumatised state and need help.

According to research, society judges people who have abandoned newborn babies in a much more sympathetic way than those who leave older children.

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There are no firm conclusions as to why babies are abandoned. Some psychiatrists believe that mothers - especially young ones - can become overwhelmed by the presence of something that they denied for nine months. When the baby is born, the distressed mother can lose contact with reality for a brief period of time and may abandon her child.

Often the women can be suffering post-natal depression or feelings of inadequacy. In some cases, parents may see abandoning their child as an alternative to abortion or leave their baby believing the infant will have a chance of a better life. Economic, as well as emotional and social factors, can play a part.


When the babies grow into adulthood their mental health may be at risk because they were abandoned, say experts. They may require support and often this can vary depending on if they were abandoned to die or abandoned to be found.

"Often people abandoned as babies show great resilience but there is always another side to them," says Pam Hodgekins of Norcap, a charity that supports people who have been adopted.

"They have to cope with major issues, like not knowing their proper birthday or even having a name when they are left. It is often harder for them to move on than people put up for adoption. They may feel rejected but at least know their parents made a plan for them. People who have been abandoned don't even have that comfort."

Noel abandoned in Plymouth in August this year
Police or health care staff often name the babies
Information on the finder of the baby can be very limited and little thought is given to their welfare, even though they are often emotionally touched by their discovery and may recall the incident for the rest of their lives.

"I have spoken to a policeman who found a baby 12 years ago in Nottingham. On the anniversary each year he takes the day off and returns to the place. He finds it hard to cope with the fact that the baby's family were never traced," says Ms Hodgekins.

"Often these people feel a responsibility and connection towards the baby. They question whether finding the infant is some sort of sign that they are meant to look after it."

Health care staff and the authorities also play a vital part in an abandoned baby's identity as they often name the child.

Norcap is pushing for national guidelines on dealing with abandoned babies. It says issues such as media coverage need to be looked at. The charity thinks delaying appeals through newspapers and television for a few days might be a better approach.

"A mother is more likely to come forward if she doesn't know what has happened to her baby," says Ms Hodgekins. "The way things are currently handled she is able to see on the news the same day that her child is being cared for."

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