Health and Family Services Cabinet
Safe Infants Law allows safe surrender of newborns; Parents can leave baby with personnel at ‘safe places’
Note to producers and editors: Download an audio clip of Child Safety Branch Manager Lisa Durbin discussing the Safe Infants Law at http://chfs.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/540FD913-A09F-4718-9A72-5345281FAE9E/0/SafeInfantsANRFeb08.mp3.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 13, 2008) – A state law that allows parents to safely surrender their newborns gives hope to men and women concerned about becoming parents.
The Safe Infants Act became effective in April 2002 and allows parents or someone acting on their behalf to anonymously place infants they cannot care for at selected “safe places.” The law has resulted in 20 babies being placed in the care of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
“We all read the headlines when an infant has been unsafely abandoned, so it’s essential people are educated about the Safe Infants Act,” said Lisa Durbin, manager of the CHFS Child Safety Branch. “For women who may have lost hope because of a pregnancy, this is an option.”
Under the law, parents may leave a baby up to 72 hours old at any hospital, with emergency medical services (EMS) personnel or with any firefighter or police officer. Parents remain anonymous and cannot be pursued or prosecuted unless an abandoned infant shows signs of abuse or neglect.
Supporters of the law intended it to eliminate incidents of newborns being left in unsafe locations outdoors or in trash cans, restrooms or other public places, or outside a home.
Unsafe baby abandonment is considered child abuse and neglect.
“The primary goal of the law is to keep babies from being abandoned with no one knowing about it,” Durbin said. “Women who have hidden a pregnancy may be frightened, but they can ensure their baby will be safe and they can protect themselves with this law.”
Two babies have died in Kentucky after being unsafely abandoned by their mothers in the past three years, Durbin said.
“If those parents had left the babies at a ‘safe place,’ those tragedies could have been avoided,” she said.
Babies left with staff at a “safe place” are examined and, if needed, treated at a hospital. CHFS then places them with certified foster parents who are interested in adopting. Birth parents have 30 days to reconsider leaving their baby. CHFS then asks the courts to terminate parental rights, freeing the baby for adoption. CHFS’ protection and permanency staff works with those parents who decide to reunite with their child.
Infants coming into the state’s care are placed with foster families who are interested in eventually adopting to minimize placements for children.
Durbin said safely surrendering an infant can be an important choice for women and their partners.
“Becoming a parent is hard work, but choosing to let another family raise your baby is also difficult,” she said. “However, for many women, knowing they can safely surrender their baby without being pursued or legally charged provides them great relief regarding their decision.”
At the identified safe places to leave a baby, parents receive an information packet that includes coded bracelets for parent and baby and voluntary medical disclosure forms that can be left with the baby or returned by mail. The information helps caregivers determine treatment for the baby and is kept confidential.
Durbin said the parents’ medical history is important in determining the future needs of the child.
The packet also includes a brochure instructing mothers about how to keep themselves healthy after delivery.
Since 2002, 12 of the 20 children who have been surrendered have been adopted.
Women who know they will want to surrender their baby can plan for adoption through CHFS even before their babies are born. This can ensure that both a woman and her baby have the benefits of medical care during pregnancy.
For those who want to keep their babies but are worried about the challenges of parenting, help is available.
“Our local office staff can help connect families to several community providers that offer assistance,” Durbin said.
Pregnant women who need help with prenatal care may get assistance at their local health departments.
Durbin said that CHFS has provided publications and posters about the Safe Infants Act to several community agencies and wants to encourage more discussion about the law.
“It is important that everyone get involved in educating social service providers, physicians, schools, universities and community partners about this law,” she said. “Getting the word out is one of the best ways to protect these vulnerable infants.”
The public can learn more about the Safe Infants Act or download the publications at http://chfs.ky.gov/dcbs/dpp/KYSafeInfants.
Find out more about adoption by calling CHFS at (800) 232-KIDS.
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