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Psychological Effects of Abandonment on Children

author image Meg Brannagan
Meg Brannagan has worked as a registered nurse for more than 10 years, specializing in women's and children's health. She holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Psychological Effects of Abandonment on Children
Child abandonment negatively affects children.

Child abandonment is an increasing issue in the United States and also takes place frequently in other parts of the world. While child abandonment may take many forms, it essentially results in a child being left for someone else to care for him. The consequences of this act can be detrimental for the children who grow up with an awareness of the event. For abandoned children in the United States and those entering the country through international adoption, the effects of abandonment may be lifelong.

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Child Abandonment

Child abandonment occurs any time a child is left without proper parental care for an extensive period of time, according to the Child Welfare League of America. In cases of baby abandonment, some parents leave a baby in a place where he might be found by authorities, or in some situations, as a means of discarding the baby.


Abandonment is considered a form of neglect by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and results in similar negative outcomes. An abandoned child’s safety may be endangered, particularly at the time of abandonment. Children are also put at risk of suffering physical effects, such as malnutrition, lack of adequate health care or substandard hygiene.

Low Self-Esteem

Long-term effects of abandonment influence how a person feels about herself and her sense of self-worth. As a teenager or adult, coping mechanisms may be inadequate when managing painful situations, and a person with a history of abandonment may have difficulty relating with a spouse or partner.


Children aware they were abandoned may later show signs of anxiety while relating to caregivers or important people in their lives. Doris Landry, an author and educational expert in the field of international adoption, works with children whot were abandoned as infants in China. Although they were adopted into loving families, the children still dealt with severe anxiety as manifested by difficulty separating from parents, sleep issues and controlling behavior.


An abandoned child may have difficulty forming lasting bonds with others, particularly new caregivers. A child being cared for after abandonment may not attach with a new family and remain indifferent toward family members. He may have a lack of trust in others, fearing the departure of someone else important to him. By not allowing himself to bond with others, he rationalizes that he will not feel hurt again if he is rejected.

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