What happens to abandoned babies in the UK?
September 17, 2011 3:01 AM   Subscribe

What will happen to this baby if his mother doesn't come back?

A couple of days ago, a newborn baby was apparently abandoned by his mother in a London hospital. She went outside for a cigarette a few hours after the birth and never came back. I was wondering if someone familiar with the UK's child welfare system could shed light on what's likely to happen next.

I know older kids who are abandoned by/taken from their parents typically go to foster homes, and then, if they're lucky, eventually get adopted. Is this done with newborns as well, or will they try to place him with adoptive parents straight away? Will he get special help when he's older to cope with the emotional fallout of being abandoned? (Is there emotional fallout from being abandoned at that age, or will he simply not remember?) What happens if one or both of his parents turn up years from now?

When I saw his picture, I immediately wanted to phone the hospital and offer to adopt him. But I know that's not how it works.
posted by Perodicticus potto to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Response by poster: (Looking at the story again, I wonder if the issue will be further complicated by the fact that his mother may not have been a UK citizen. Since children born to foreign parents in the UK do not automatically get citizenship, what's this child's status?)
posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:17 AM on September 17, 2011

I'm speculating out loud here but wouldn't they wait a certain length of time to see if the mother comes forward, put the child into foster care and then eventually after they've exhausted hope, adopt him out to UK parents? Then presumably the child would get citizenship. I've read that this is how it happens in Australia, although of course it could differ over there.
posted by Jubey at 4:07 AM on September 17, 2011

Best answer: I know a bit about this. He'll be placed in foster care and huge efforts will be made to trace his mother or any family members, even if she or they are not in the UK. If there's any record of who the father is he and his family will be contacted too. If Children's Services find the mother and she wants to keep the child returning him to her would be Plan A. They might do this by placing both the mother and baby in a foster placement that would take both of them and allow the mother's treatment of the child to be observed and the mother to get some training on parenting from the foster carer if that's needed. There are also residential mother and baby units but I don't know so much about them. Children's Services wouldn't place him with adoptive parents immediately because the presumption is that he would be best served by being returned to his mother if that's feasible.

If finding the mother or other family members fails, or when they're found they can't or won't care for the baby (other family members would need an assessment, which might be carried out at a Birmingham family centre or, if they are in another country, by Children Across Borders, wch carries out social work internationally on behalf of local authorities) then there would be a plan for adoption. If he's assessed as not having any disabilities it shouldn't be difficult to find adoptive parents. Once the baby is placed with adoptive parents there would be regular visits and reviews until the adoption order is made by the court. After that, if his birth parents turned up they would have no legal rights over him, though it might be considered in his best interests to have some contact depending on their circumstances and reasons for abandoning him.

I don't know what later therapeutic support there might be for the child and suspect it would depend on whether he seemed troubled later on. Children who are adopted later in life do often need therapy and there are some - limited - local authority-funded resources to provide it. Normal practice would be at the minimum to create a life-story book for the child but in this situation there would be little to put in it so not quite sure how that would work.

But I do know in these situations the mother is quite often traced or comes forward and the baby is returned to her. It very much depends on the reasons she left - post-natal depression, drug addiction, learning disabilities, can all play a part in a mother going missing and in decisions about whether the child is returned to her.

Birmingham is a struggling authority and has had several child deaths in the last few years in which services have been implicated - but any UK's authority's primary plan would be to find the mother and consider returning the child to her.
posted by paduasoy at 4:36 AM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might like to read this account by Stephen Medcalf of finding an abandoned baby in a telephone box - that child was later adopted.
posted by paduasoy at 4:38 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Re the legal situation - I can't speak definitely but I have known other babies of Eastern European parents adopted in this country, so I'm not sure that his citzenship status will affect the plan for him. My understanding is also that adoption does not give automatic citizenship (eg asylum-seeking children who are adopted do not automatically get citizenship) but I'm not a lawyer. You could have a look at this discussion.
posted by paduasoy at 4:47 AM on September 17, 2011

Here's an article about a British man who was abandoned as a baby and adopted. He seems totally well-adjusted and happy with how his life turned out, but he does very badly want to find his birth parents.
posted by craichead at 5:59 AM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the family is not found, and the child becomes eligible for adoption, some family that's been investigated, and on a waiting list for a long time, is going to get the best phone call of their lives.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you very much, everyone! I have a better understanding now. I hope this boy has a long and happy life.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 7:43 AM on September 18, 2011

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