Health and Family Services Cabinet
Law Protects Babies, Parents Who Safely Surrender Them; 4-year-old Safe Infants Act gives parents another option
FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 5, 2006) – Pregnant women concerned about becoming parents have help from a law that allows them to safely surrender their newborns.
Since 2002, the Thomas J. Burch Safe Infants Act has allowed parents or someone acting on their behalf to anonymously place infants that they cannot care for at selected “safe havens.” The law has resulted in10 babies being placed in the care of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
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.
“The primary goal of the law is to keep babies from being tragically abandoned with no one even knowing about it,” said Lisa Durbin, manager of the CHFS Child Safety Branch. “Women in crisis or who may have hidden a pregnancy can ensure their baby will be safe with this law.”
Durbin said that since July, two babies have died after being unsafely abandoned by their mothers.
“If those parents had known about the law, those tragedies could have been avoided,” she said.
Unsafe baby abandonment is considered child abuse and neglect.
Babies left at one of these safe places are examined and, if needed, treated at a hospital. CHFS then places them with foster parents who are interested in adopting. Parents have 30 days to reconsider leaving their baby. After that time, CHFS asks the courts to terminate parental rights, freeing the baby for adoption.
“All but one abandonment occurred in hospitals just after delivery,” Durbin said.
At the identified safe places to leave a baby, parents can 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 teaching mothers how to care for themselves after delivery.
In eight of the 10 cases of safe surrender since 2002, the children have been adopted.
CHFS’ protection and permanency office worked with one mother who came forward to be reunited with her child, Durbin said.
Durbin said her office is distributing Safe Infants Act information to advocates across the state through Community Collaboration for Children Regional Networks in each of CHFS' 16 regions.
Local health departments, Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky and the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services/Children’s EMS are also providing literature.
“We appreciate the support in order to raise awareness about the law – particularly to women who might have second thoughts about motherhood or teens who feel they have few options,” Durbin said.
“Placing a child for adoption is a difficult choice,” she said, “and it takes a great deal of strength and courage to put a child’s needs above your own. This law helps parents to be able to do this in a safe and planned way.”
Women who know they will want to surrender their baby can plan for adoption through CHFS even before their babies are born.
And families who want to keep their babies, but fear it will be a struggle, can get support and referrals to other service agencies through CHFS.
All pregnant women who need help with prenatal care may get assistance at their local health departments.
Learn more about the Safe Infants law online at http://chfs.ky.gov/dcbs/dpp/KYSafeInfants.
Find out more about adoption by calling CHFS at (800) 232-KIDS.
– 30 –