When a Parent Abandons Kids: What Led a Mom to Leave Her Children at a Firehouse?

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Inside the fire station where firefighters brought out a teddy bear to try to cheer up two young boys who had just been abandoned by their mom. (Photo: KTRK)

A heartbreaking situation is unfolding in Houston this week: On Monday afternoon, two boys, ages 14 months and 3 years, were abandoned at a firehouse by their mom.

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Their mother told firefighters that she’d just been in a fight with the boys’ father, who allegedly said that he didn’t want them anymore, reports ABC11 Houston. Firefighters called police, but the mom left her sons, along with a stroller and diapers, behind before they arrived.

“The firefighters tried to make the experience as comfortable as possible. It was a traumatic experience most definitely,” said Kenyatta Parker, spokesperson for the Houston Fire Department, told ABC11.

“You take any child out of a mother’s arms or grasp and they’re going to lose it. That’s what they did. So in true firefighter form, we found some teddy bears in the fire station to make it as easy as possible considering the situation.”

Over the next few days, more details emerged. After a court hearing on Tuesday, the children were placed in the temporary custody of the state of Texas. Authorities also identified both parents, Jasmin Jones, 22, and John Lee Smith, 31, reports KTRK Houston. Neither attended the hearing.

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Child Protective Services reportedly have investigated the family before for neglect, and allegations of drug use by Jones’ reportedly led to her losing custody of the boys last month.

Smith was given custody, according to KTRK, but last weekend, Smith reportedly became ill, and he gave the kids back to their mother.

Like every state, Texas has a “safe haven” law that allows parents to leave their baby at a police station, firehouse, hospital, or other safe location without being charged, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance.

These laws focus on newborns and infants under a year old, though the exact age varies among states. The abandoned toddlers are too old, and it remains to be seen whether Jones will be charged with a crime.

It’s unclear just how many minors are abandoned by their parents in the United States each year. The legal definition of child abandonment varies among states, and though one estimate of the number of babies left by parents via Safe Haven laws has it at 3,000, that doesn’t account for older children.

The disturbing story begs the question: How could even the most desperate mom abandon her kids? “Child abandonment is so stunning because it goes against a mother’s nature, which is to protect her child,” Beverly Hills-based family therapist Fran Walfish tells Yahoo Parenting.

The situation in Houston is still murky, but Jones’ alleged drug use might play a part. “A mother may feel she can’t provide for her kids’ basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, and drug use complicates the picture,” says Walfish.

If poverty was behind the abandonment, it’s even more gut-wrenching, she notes, because social services and private charities exist to keep families together. “Did she abandon them because she couldn’t afford their basic needs? It’s a tragedy because services exist to keep the parents from discarding their children,” says Walfish.

Child abandonment takes other forms as well. Some mothers of privilege decide after a divorce or split that they don’t want the burden of parenting any longer, and they hand over sole custody to their partner or a relative, she says.

And there’s another kind of abandonment Walfish calls “covert abandonment,” where parents focus on their careers or other interests and leave raising the kids to hired help, like nannies.

The result for the child left behind can be just as upsetting. “Children crave an emotional connection to their parents, and those who have been abandoned have tremendous difficulty trusting people because their strong attachment to their primary caretakers has been breached,” says Walfish.

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