24/04/2012 18:53 BST | Updated 24/06/2012 06:12 BST

Greece's Economic Crisis Is Tearing Families Apart

What would it take to make you abandon your children? Not war? Not even disaster?

The answer coming out of parents in Greece right now might shock you. It's economic crisis. And it's tearing families apart.

Last week I met a Greek mum who has given all three of her children away. Kasiani lost her job as a cleaner last year and with one in five Greeks unemployed she couldn't find another one.

Then her benefits were cut. A lot. She claims that left her unable to afford rent as well as food. Faced with the choice of homelessness or hunger, she snapped. Kasiani told me she felt forced to break her own heart. She handed her two precious daughters and son into the care of a charity.

I went with Kasiani on a rare visit to her children. Her eldest daughter nearly knocked her over with a desperate hug hello. They screamed 'mama' from the top of the stairs as they ran to her with their arms outstretched. I've seen a lot of bad things happen to people all over the world. For some reason this scene made me cry.

It's hard to imagine how a mother could ever walk away from her kids. They seemed to me like a normal loving family. Kasiani wiped away tears as she tried to explain. "I don't feel human any more" she said. "I'm not alive."

Sadly Kasiani is not exactly an exception. In a country on the brink of collapse statistics of this kind are simply not being collected; but local papers tell of children found on doorsteps, and the numbers from a single international charity there tell their own story.

'SOS Children' usually operate in countries ravaged by war or disaster. They look after children whose parents cannot look after them.

In the last year in Greece they have been contacted by almost a thousand families. That's up two and a half times the number from the year before. Even more unusually, the vast majority of requests (97%) are coming from Greek families. It used to be mainly immigrants. Two thirds of those Greek families needed help because of financial crisis in the family.

I spent two days in a village the charity has built on the outskirts of Athens to house around two hundred children. Not all of them were there because of the crisis, but many were. I don't know why but one little girl in particular keeps coming into my mind. Six-year-old Athene was repeating in heartbreaking tones "I love you." Perhaps that was the only English she knew. Or possibly, having lost her parents she was simply desperate for affection.

She's too young to understand why many Greeks blame other countries, like my own, for her desperate situation. The cuts that have plunged a third of all Greeks below the poverty line were forced onto Greece: it was the price of the financial bail-out they got from the EU. That makes Athene an orphan of austerity and it makes people like you and me partially responsible.

Two special reports on the Greek debt crisis air on ITV1 Daybreak today, Wednesday 25April, and Thursday 26 April.