Understanding “Abandonment”

Photo of baby lying in crib with hands in mouth

The reasons parents can’t parent their child are often far more complex than they seem.

How could a parent ever abandon their child?

If you’ve had this thought, it’s okay. This response is out of a heart of compassion, justice and love. But the reasons parents cannot parent their children are far more complex than they seem. As an adoptive parent, it’s especially important to understand these complexities so you can give both your child and his or her birth parents the respect and dignity they deserve.

What is Abandonment?

When a child is found “abandoned,” it’s almost always in a very public place. This is not by accident or coincidence, and it’s important to know why. Leaving their child in a place where they will most certainly be found helps to ensure their child will be taken in, receive the care they need, and possibly be placed with a loving adoptive family. This occurs most often in countries such as China and Mongolia, where there is no legal way for parents to relinquish their child to someone else’s care.

What is Relinquishment?

Some countries have a formal relinquishment process, which allows parents to place their child for adoption without facing legal consequences. In some places, parents can meet with a social worker who provides guidance and support as they choose whether to parent or place their child for adoption. In several countries, such as Korea and Thailand, Holt has helped develop these kinds of birth parent support services — ensuring that if a parent chooses adoption for their child, they have made an informed decision to legally surrender their parental rights in a place of support and understanding.

Why Do Parents Abandon or Relinquish Their Children?

Although every parent has a unique story, and a different reason why they cannot parent their child, there are some common themes.


Many cultures are still unaccepting of single parent families. In countries like Korea and India, single parents face intense stigma and are often shunned by their families and communities. If they choose to parent, single moms and their children will likely face discrimination in every facet of their lives.

If, out of desperation, a parent feels they cannot raise their child and they live in a country without legal relinquishment, they often feel their only option is to leave their child somewhere to be found. To identify themselves would mean severe legal consequences.


If a parent is living in extreme poverty, they may part with their child in the hope that they will have a better life in someone else’s care. Holt empowers these parents with the tools they need to generate income and rise above poverty, but some parents separate from their child before they receive the help they need and deserve.

Special Needs

Parents of children who have special needs face even greater obstacles. In many impoverished communities, parents do not have the resources to provide needed medical care, therapies and special education, and their child may need urgent care that they cannot afford. Whether their child has a severe heart condition or a developmental need like Down syndrome, a parent may separate from their child in the hope that they receive the care they need to lead as healthy and full a life as possible.

What’s important is to not judge or assume to know a birth parent’s motives and to recognize that permanent separation is a loss for birth parents as well as adoptees — one that needs to be acknowledged in an open and accepting way.

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