Although a common knee-jerk reaction, simply laying all blame at the door of a mother who abandons her children is at best disingenuous and at worst poisonous. The
truth is that some women who get pregnant are simply not capable of raising a child due to any of a number of reasons: still being a child herself, addiction or mental
health issues, being totally indigent. In circumstances such as these, giving the child up may be the kindest option, and in many cases society as a whole is not
blameless for the situation arising in the first place. Yet the mother will often be ostracized and blamed for the position she found herself in, without any thought given to how she got there.
Simply put, children are often abandoned when there is no better option available. This is usually a literal last resort, but still better than infanticide or trying
to raise a baby in an unsuitable environment.
It’s a well-known fact that unhappy childhoods tend to run in families. There are also several measures that can be taken to ameliorate this tendency: improved public
mental health programs, abandoning the ridiculous War on Drugs for a more rational policy, and offering more
comprehensive services at school level. Until this important topic becomes part of the public discourse, though, nothing is likely to change except for the worse.
The Past and Future of Orphanages
The attitude of most societies to orphans, including those with living but incapable parents, can best be described as “out of sight, out of mind”. As in many cases,
there is little political incentive to spend money today to prevent far greater expense later
– on jails, policing and the damage crime causes, the results of unemployment and individuals failing to truly enter society, under-education and, indeed, a new
generation of teenage mothers.
In most of the developed world, orphanages have mostly disappeared after it was finally realized that the level of care (or rather, lack of care) they provided was
completely inadequate to childrearing. Those that remain are mostly small, privately-run religious institutions or devoted to children with specific behavioral
The focus has instead shifted to supporting at-risk families, both financially and in other ways. While the results have generally been good, such programs continue to
be underfunded, with “welfare queens” often serving as a rhetorical target for a certain kind of politician.
Foster Care and Adoption
Somewhat absurdly, the criteria adoptive parents (outside of direct family members) have to meet and the process they have to go through remain extremely demanding,
while any couple able to have sex can procreate without restriction.
In the best case (in respect of long-term outcomes), abandoned children are
permanently settled with relatives, as happens about a quarter of the time. In the worst, they are subjected to “permanent temporary foster care”, where they are
rotated between different families without any opportunity to form a sense of security and attachment.
Despite a generally high level of success, one of the weaknesses of this system is that it tries to address specific, unique problems with a centralized governing
body. Much of the actual responsibility for providing care is shuffled off onto volunteers, who are nominally reimbursed for their expenses.
Sometimes, small efforts (or the lack of them) have tremendous consequences. There’s space for a lot more to be done in terms of training, access to counseling, and
special arrangements for children with physical or mental disabilities.
Websites like Human Paragon discuss the destiny of humanity mainly in terms of social and technological change,
but there is a common strand running through this and related philosophies: liberty. We should, it is argued, be free to alter our bodies at will, reach our full
potential in every sense and live life with only a minimum of interference.
In some cases, this implies upsetting certain social and familial arrangements most people will think of as inevitable. Of course, “the natural order of things” is a
mutable concept even in biology, and modern society actually has very little in common with a pre-industrial one.
In particular, parents are exposed to less community scrutiny, while the effects of neglect and abuse that fall short of a criminal act are increasingly being recognized. However, at present, someone
below the age of majority who finds themselves in an untenable situation has few options aside from phoning the police (which may be totally ineffective) or seeking
legal emancipation (which requires them to instantly become completely independent, including financially). Arguably, a great deal of harm can be prevented by allowing
them another, less drastic way to escape ongoing harm.
When it comes to the protection of the vulnerable and voiceless members of our community, people are absurdly fond of trite sayings like “It takes a village”. Tut-
tutting and complaining, unfortunately, do little to solve the problem. Most of us have known people whose childhood experiences – whether abandonment, neglect or
outright abuse – contributed to various problems for both themselves and those around them. Claiming that this important issue is the responsibility of the state and
leaving it at that is absurd when the full scope of this dilemma is considered.