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Safely Surrending Babies

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

“No shame, no blame, no names”

Early one recent morning, a man rummaging for recyclables in dumpsters behind a Merced, California apartment complex made a heart-stopping discovery.  He heard a noise and began digging to the bottom of the dumpster. There, among discarded pizza boxes, household garbage and bags of trash, he found an hours-old baby girl wrapped in a towel, cold and dirty, with her umbilical cord dangling.

He quickly wrapped the baby in his own shirt and yelled for help. Someone called 911. A woman held the baby close while they waited for paramedics to arrive; meanwhile, she massaged and tapped the baby’s chest and the infant gasped for air and began to cry. They called the baby Milagro, a little miracle.

The thirteen year old mother who abandoned the baby has been found. There has to be a sad story there, one of fear, shame or perhaps abuse. Her details haven’t been made public. The good news is that at last report, the baby is healthy and should be just fine. People have already come forward, offering to adopt her.

Abandoning a newborn in a bathroom or dumpster is a crime. There is a safe alternative.

California’s Safely Surrendered Baby Law, www.babysafe.ca.gov, was first implemented in 2001 and became permanent law in 2006. The purpose of the law is to protect newborns from being hurt or killed because they are abandoned by mothers who are frightened or under severe duress and who feel they have no place to turn for help. The law saves babies’ lives: between January 1 and early July of this year six newborns were safely surrendered in Los Angeles County alone.

Here’s how the law works: Within 72 hours of birth, a baby may be left by a parent or person with lawful custody, confidentially and without fear of prosecution, at certain designated places such as a hospital, fire station or police station. The designated safe locations vary from county to county; for example, in San Diego County only hospital emergency rooms are designated locations. At the time of surrendering, an identifying bracelet is placed on the baby and a matching bracelet is provided to the parent or guardian. That person has 14 days in which to reclaim the baby. No names are required, and the surrendering person is protected from prosecution for abandonment. The infant is medically examined, placed in foster care and then becomes available for adoption.

October is Respect Life month. This is a good time to publicize the Safely Surrendered Baby law, especially because Baby Milagro, discarded in a dumpster, is in the news now. Posters and brochures are available atwww.babysafe.ca.gov in English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian, and at www.babysafela.org where materials can be downloaded in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean. The statewide toll free number is 1-877-222-9723.