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How we failed the mom who abandoned her baby on the subway

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Why we shouldn't abandon the mom who abandoned her baby

Mother abandons baby in subway. The headline would make any parent gasp. One of the primal fears of motherhood is that you'll be separated from your kids in a public place. But to willingly lose your baby? On a subway platform? Not even Disney would start a movie on that premise and you know how they love to orphan babies.

Mom arrested for abandoning her baby

So of course when a young black woman left her 7-month-old baby girl in a subway in New York, people were outraged and called for action. The police quickly located 20-year-old Frankea Dabbs from surveillance footage and arrested her. They booked her for abandonment, adding to existing misdemeanor charges stemming from prostitution and assault that she was currently running away from. The baby, Mylanea Love, was taken by child services. All's well that ends well?

Not necessarily. This story breaks my heart and not just because a tiny, innocent child was endangered. (And make no mistake, she was. This could easily have gone the way of Law and Order: SVU rather than Night Court.) But I think it's also a tragedy because a young mom was arrested for doing the best thing she could think of with the very few resources she had.

She wanted the best for her baby

"She felt she couldn't take care of the baby and thought she was leaving her in a safe public space," said Stephen Davis, spokesman for the New York Police Department. Dabbs, a homeless woman who had witnessed the murder of her baby's father, decided she wanted more for her daughter than the street life she could offer her.

Isn't that what we tell mothers who, for whatever reason, can't or don't want to be mothers anymore? Sure, a subway platform isn't exactly a hospital or fire station but it's better than throwing the child in a dumpster — a sad reality that happened enough times to make people enact safe haven laws for babies. Trying to get your baby help and out of a dangerous lifestyle is a good thing.

Did this mom have the resources she needed as a parent?

I worked at a battered women's shelter and the majority of moms I saw come through there had to make similarly heart-breaking choices about their children. There were always better options available than simple abandonment but many of these mothers didn't know how to get help. So they made the best choices they knew how, not because they didn't love their children but because they did love them.

Frankea Dabbs, like the women I worked with, is not a bad mother. She's an uneducated one in a desperate situation. Arresting her, in my opinion, will only further the problems for both mom and child. She needs social services that will help her find a stable home environment, get help for substance abuse problems (if she has them) and find better job options.

But of course that's the ideal and not the reality. I'm all too aware of how limited funds are for social services, how long wait times for job placement programs can be and how frustratingly difficult it can be to finally get a woman to leave the streets. If we want fewer babies abandoned in subways, we need to think harder about how to support struggling families.

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