(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

I met my first abandoned baby this week.

I met my first abandoned baby this week.  Daniel, four months old, was born prematurely, so he was the smallest of the four in the abandoned baby nursery.  When we walked in my first thought was, “Where are the nurses?” as the nursery was empty except for the four babies.  The babies were all staring at the ceiling, awake, but not moving, no noise.  

When we began talking to the nurse who escorted us, Daniel started stirring so Nancy picked him up. As she started talking and cooing with him, he turned his face away.  It took several minutes before he turned toward her voice, and then his gaze locked on her face and wouldn’t let go.
These babies have Attachment Disorder and they haven’t even left the hospital. 

                        “When mothers abandon their infant, why do they do it?” I asked Tibi, the Outreach Worker for Fundatia Inocentia.  Tibi has worked as a social worker with abandoned children for 15 years. 
                        “Mostly economic reasons.  They are too poor to have a home, to take care of a baby.”
                        Homelessness, drug abuse, prostitution, migrating to Western Europe in search of work were all cited as reasons mothers abandon an infant.  He estimated about 20% of the abandoned children he has worked with were Roma children, contradicting a common myth among Romanians.  That means 80% were ordinary Romanians who fell into hard times. 

Many Romanian attitudes toward infants don’t seem to acknowledge attachment needs.  In Romanian hospitals babies are routinely separated from their mothers for the first 48 hours, the period of time when a mother’s hormones are primed for attachment.  Wealthy mothers who understand western maternity wards can pay extra to keep their baby in the room.  So poor mothers who may be at risk of abandoning their newborn don’t even have a chance to change their mind.
The Romanian child protection laws on abandonment and adoption don’t support healthy infant development either.  A child must go for 4 months without a visit from a family member before it can be declared abandoned.  Until the child is legally declared abandoned, he or she cannot leave the hospital.  In America, if a mother left the hospital without her infant, Child Protective Service would be involved within days and the child would go to foster care where someone would be holding, cuddling, and talking to it.
           Further, Romania changed the adoption laws in 2005 to make it harder to adopt an abandoned child.  For that child to be adopted the hospital social worker must find the mother, have her appear before a judge, and she must consent to the adoption.  So to recap, 1. mother is absent for 4 months, 2. then the hospital must track her down, 3. schedule a hearing with a judge, make sure she shows up, and 4. she must give permission to adopt the child. Many mothers say, “I don’t want the child, but I don’t want someone else raising my child.  Let the state keep it.”   So the welfare of the child hinges on a person who has neglected the child for the past year.
            At the best, this process can take a year, and during that time the child is in a “total institution,” a baby warehouse with little stimulation.  Most abandoned children become wards of the state and it is two years before foster care will be available.  


  1. I just read a book about Romanian orphans. I wanted to find out more. I am glad I found your blog. What is surprising to me? That it hasn't changed over there. I was hoping that things were better but I see the date on your blog is from this year. Feeling called to go. Thanks for sharing.