Safe Infants Act Allows Parents to Safely Surrender Babies
For five years, pregnant women concerned about becoming parents have had help from a law that allows them to safely surrender their newborns.
This law 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 15 babies being placed in the care of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
"When headlines announce that an infant has been unsafely abandoned, it's even more important that the public get involved and get the word out about the Safe Infants Act," said Lisa Durbin, manager of the CHFS Child Safety Branch. "For women who may feel lost 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.
"The primary goal of the law is to keep babies from being abandoned with no one even 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 two years, Durbin said.
"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 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.
Durbin said all but one of the babies were surrendered right after the mothers gave birth in a hospital.
"We didn't expect this law to affect so many women who delivered at a medical facility," Durbin said. "But for the health of the babies, that has been a positive result."
Durbin said safely surrendering an infant can be a big choice for women and their partners.
"Becoming a parent is hard work, but the choice to let another family raise your baby is also a struggle," she said. "For many women, safely surrendering their baby is the option they feel is best for their child."
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, nine of the 15 children who have been surrendered have been adopted.
One mother came forward to be reunited with her child, Durbin said. CHFS