Foundling room to open in Amsterdam in 2017
A foundling is an infant that has been abandoned by its parents and is discovered and cared for by others.
Centuries ago, before social services and childcare benefits, foundling rooms in hospitals were not uncommon.
These days it may seem like a long-forgotten problem, but perhaps we take for granted that not all mothers are able to ask for the support they are entitled to from the government. Some mothers find themselves in unfavourable circumstances and are not given the opportunity to ask for help.
Statistics in the Netherlands
There are currently six foundling rooms in the Netherlands: in Groningen, Middelburg, Oudenbosch, Papendrecht, Rotterdam and Zwolle.
An additional room will open in Amsterdam Zuidoost in 2017, following a case in June 2016, where a baby was found in Sloterplas in a sportsbag. Before this incident, in 2014, another child was found alive in a rubbish container.
Protected Cradle Foundation in the Netherlands
In 2014, a charity called the Protected Cradle Foundation (Stichting Beschermde Wieg) opened its doors to women who, for whatever reason, are unable to care for their child. They claim that, each year, six children in the Netherlands are abandoned in dumpsters, public toilets or shopping bags with, on average, only two being found alive.
Whilst abortion is legal in the Netherlands, there are still many reasons why a woman may not feel they can easily ask for help, and this is something that the organisation acknowledges and takes to heart.
For that reason, the charity is making foundling rooms accessible across the Netherlands to mothers who are unable to cope and need to leave their child in safe hands, namely a volunteer who will then ultimately find the child a foster home.
Foundling rooms in the Netherlands
These rooms are mainly in hospitals, and consist of a bed, chair, a wall poster with information for the mother, envelopes and paper should the mother want to leave her personal details, and an emergency button so that the mother can call for assistance once she leaves.
A volunteer will be available within minutes to care for the child. The mother has six months to reclaim her child if she changes her mind, or if her situation changes.
The first case
The six foundling rooms in the Netherlands have been open since 2014, with the first established at the Isala Hospital in Zwolle. The first incident of a child being left in a foundling room was in May 2016 in Groningen.
The mother left her information in a sealed envelope so that the child, once of legal age, could decide whether or not to contact her.
The conflict with Dutch law
According to Dutch law, it is unlawful to abandon your child. One can receive a jail sentence of up to four years as well as a fine of up to 20 thousand euros. In effect, the foundation’s foundling rooms are therefore also illegal, and are currently under investigation.
When the first child was left, the Groningen city councillor criticised it stating that the city was already establishing procedures to prevent child abandonment. The foundation responded in saying that not all mothers are able to take advantage of the services already in place, perhaps due to psychological issues, abuse or the threat of violence to herself or even the child.
The resurgence of foundling rooms
Whilst there may not be such a high demand for foundling rooms in the Netherlands, the foundation believes that it is much better to have an option for mothers who are unable to get the help they need through official channels.
A foundling room, many would agree, is preferred to abandoning a child in the cold. If you are a struggling expat parent, there is a lot of help at hand.