Children were abandoned throughout Europe from Hellenistic antiquity to the End of the Middle Ages in great numbers, by parents of every social standing, and in a great variety of circumstances...Most abandoned children were rescued and brought up either as adopted members of another household or as laborers of some sort. Whether they were exposed anonymously (in which the aim was usually to attract attention), sold, donated, substituted, or "fostered," abandoned infants probably died at a rate only slightly higher than the infant mortality rate at the time...The great disjunction in [the history of abandonment] was occasioned by the rise of the foundling homes sometime in the early thirteenth century. Within a century or two nearly all major European cities had such hospices, which neatly gathered all of the troubling and messy aspects of child abandonment away from view, off the streets, under institutional supervision. Behind their walls, paid officials dealt with society's loose ends, and neither the parents who abandoned them nor their fellow citizens had to devote any further thought or care to the children. Even the foundling homes did not have to care for them for long. A majority of the children died within a few years of admission in most areas of Europe from the time of the emergence of foundling homes until the eighteenth century; in some times and places the mortality rate exceeded ninety percent.

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