The social disintegration of poor, inner-city nuclear families has left many children without either parent to care for them. They are the children of what are being called "zero-parent families," whose mothers and fathers are either unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their upbringing. These children live with relatives or family friends or with foster care families, changing addresses often, resentful at not having a "normal" home life and often failing in school.
State and local social service agencies don't track such children a separate category, nor do school officials usually know which children are growing up in households where neither parent is present because kids are reluctant to admit they've been abandoned. There is evidence that the number of such children is growing, however, as young mothers increasingly fall victim to such multiple poverty-related traumas as homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness and AIDS.
In Baltimore, for example, an interagency task force on education for homeless children counted 1,061 school-age homeless children. That figure may represent a small fraction of the total number of children growing up without a mother or father. In some cities, up to half the kids in the poorest neighborhoods do not live with either parent.