Advocates seek better awareness of Safe Haven baby laws

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 24, 2017 10:43 AM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — After the discovery this week of an infant's body in a Connecticut reservoir, some lawmakers and advocates are questioning whether enough is being done to publicize a law that allows parents to drop off newborns at a hospital — no questions asked.

Since the state law passed in 2000, public service campaigns have tried to put the word out, but it has been a challenge to get the message to stick, particularly among high school students, a target group that turns over every four years.

"A way needs to be found to spread the word about this law to the right age group," said Pam Sawyer, a former Republican state representative from Bolton who worked on the original legislation. "And it has to be done on a regular basis."

All 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have Safe Haven laws with varying provisions in place, with the goal of protecting newborns from abandonment or even infanticide. But many of these laws were passed without funding for public outreach.

Dawn Geras, founder of the Illinois-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, has sought inexpensive ways to advertise the legislation. For one, she asked the production company of the "Chicago" TV franchise to make sure signs on locations where babies can be dropped off appear on police and fire stations in the TV shows.

Geras also persuaded Illinois lawmakers to make sure students are taught about the law in school.

"If it's taught in the schools, hopefully, ideally, more and more people will grow up knowing about it," she said, adding that it also helps remove the stigma of giving up an infant and explain that it can be a "responsible, loving action."

Connecticut state Rep. Jeff Currey, a Democrat, would like to see that happen in his state. He said one way to consistently reach young people is to weave information about the law into the high school health curriculum. While his school district provides information about the Safe Haven law to students, many others do not.

"I think this is a next step, a sensible step," said Currey, whose proposed bill earlier this year did not get out of committee. The measure could still be amended to another bill, however.

"Maybe, in light of this (recent incident), this is a conversation to be had with our colleagues," he said.

Connecticut State Police announced Thursday they had identified the remains of the week-old baby boy found in a bag Tuesday at a reservoir in Harwinton. The mother, whose name has not been released, came forward and spoke with detectives. The cause of the infant's death was still being determined.

Since Connecticut enacted its "Safe Haven" legislation, 27 babies have been dropped off at emergency rooms. An infant who is 30 days old or younger can be left at a hospital and the parent will not face prosecution for abandonment. The Department of Children and Families then obtains custody and places the baby with a family that's already licensed and intends to adopt the child.

Recently, donated metal signs were installed identifying Connecticut hospitals where infants can be left. And April 4 will mark the second annual Safe Haven Day in Connecticut, the most recent legislative effort to draw attention to the law.

Christine Palm, of the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said a new contest this year will engage students in designing posters and public service announcements about the law.

"Every time one of these things happens, there's a flurry of interest and then there's human nature and it kind of dies down again," she said. "We're trying to get it in people's DNA."