• July/August 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 4

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Study Looks at Increase, Changes in Boarder Baby Population

More unclaimed babies in more parts of the country—that's what the Children's Bureau found when it examined changes that have occurred in this population since 1991. The Bureau's findings are reported in 1998 National Estimates of the Number of Boarder Babies, Abandoned Infants, and Discarded Infants.

The study sorted unclaimed infants into the following groups:

  • Boarder babies—infants younger than 12 months who remain in the hospital beyond medical discharge because no parent claims custody of them
  • Abandoned infants—infants younger than 12 months who have not been medically discharged yet but whose parents are unlikely to claim custody of them
  • "Discarded" infants—living infants younger than 12 months left alone and unclaimed in public or other inappropriate places.

For the first two groups, researchers compared data from similar studies conducted in 1991 and 1998. Both studies asked State child welfare agencies to identify jurisdictions that might have boarder babies. This resulted in contacting 865 hospitals in 101 jurisdictions in 1991 and 926 hospitals in 113 jurisdictions in 1998. Hospitals in those jurisdictions also were queried about abandoned infants.

Estimates of the discarded infant population were derived from a search of a newspaper database for the years 1992 and 1997. The search identified 65 infants discarded in 1992 and 105 discarded in 1997. Researchers could not determine whether the data represented an increase in number of discarded infants or an increase in reporting on discarded infants.

The analysis found:

  • There were an estimated 13,400 boarder babies nationwide (38% increase from 1991)
  • There were an estimated 17,400 abandoned infants in the jurisdictions surveyed (46% increase from 1991).

The study reports that "the boarder baby problem and the abandoned infant problem have not only grown in numbers but have spread to more communities." In 1991, 47 percent of boarder babies resided in three urban centers. By 1998, those urban centers saw their boarder baby populations drop by 21 percent—probably because child welfare services and hospitals in those jurisdictions found ways to address the problem. Meanwhile, the rest of nation saw the boarder baby population jump 90 percent. The study cannot explain the shift, but notes "the boarder baby problem simply may be following the pattern of other social problems [which] begin in major urban centers but eventually spread to the suburbs and other areas."

On a more positive note, the analysis also found the following:

  • The mean length of stay for boarder babies beyond the point of medical discharge decreased from 22 days in 1991 to 9 days in 1998
  • During the same period, the percentage of boarder babies residing in hospitals for more than 21 days declined from 24 percent to 12 percent
  • The percentage of boarder babies born prematurely declined from 47 percent to 35 percent
  • The percentage of boarder babies with a low birthweight declined from 57 percent to 33 percent.

To receive a copy of the report (reference number 20-10205), contact the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information at (800) 394-3366 or nccanch@caliber.com.

Related Item

See the following related article in the April 2000 issue of the Children's Bureau Express:

  • "States Consider Ways to Curb Infant Abandonment"

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