Since the codification of legalized baby dumping in the US, there has been growing evidence that cases once considered “boarder baby” abandonments are being folded into “safe haven cases.” That is, babies born to (usually) identified mothers in hospitals and left by the parent(s) beyond the time of discharge (the official definition [pdf] of boarder babies) are being counted as “safe haven” saved-from-the-dumpster. Numerous news reports tell us of mothers walking out of hospitals after giving birth using the “safe haven option.” One of the latest and most blatant reports was the DIY advice published in the November 11, 2008 Newark Star Ledger, How you can put your baby in a loving home. One of the most disturbing appeared in the Abeline Reporter News, June 20, 2008, Baby Moses Law allows for “safe abandonment about a “safe haven” in Richardson, Texas, where
a woman had given birth there, then said she didn’t want the child, Summey said. “The hospital didn’t know what to do. It was a Baby Moses abandonment, but the mom needed medical attention. CPS foots the bill for (the baby’s) medical care, but they didn’t know if the mother was covered as well.”
The Michigan Department of Human Services Safe Delivery Fact Sheet (statistics) [pdf] tells us that from 2001 to April 2009, 73 “safe haven” events have occurred; 62 of those babies were born in hospitals. Each is documented online with the county of surrender and the age of the mother; in a few cases the father was at the birth and is listed as “surrendering” with the mother.
A March 20, 2007 press release from the Kentucky Cabinet for Child and Human Services says that 14 out of 15 “safe havened” babies were born in hospitals, something that Lisa Durbin, manager of the Child Safety Branch calls “unexpected.” A press release dated February 13, 2008 indicates another 5 were “safe havened” but does not mention how many were born in hospitals. No numbers are available online since then.
Nick Silverio founder and director of Florida’s non-profit, A Safe Haven for Newborns, frequently issues press releases like the following, dated January 14, 2009 (not online; copy if my possession):
A mother gave birth to a healthy little girl at a hospital and wished to have the baby placed in the “Safe Haven” program. We spoke to the hospital – mother and the baby were doing very well. The mother had previously called our helpline – We provided her with information and clarification regarding this “Safe Haven” program, as she requested,. The baby’s name is: Caitiln.
When I appeared on the John Walsh Show in April 2003, one of the guests, pre-taped and shown in shadow, talked about how Tim Jaccard and New York’s AMT Children of Hope had put her up in a hotel for 7 months while she waited out her pregnancy and “safe havening.”
Occasionally, news reports tell us that hospital staff have encouraged women unsure of their parenting interest or skills to “safe haven” rather than investigate other solutions (temporary foster care, state and private assistance, adoption) since dumping is “easier.”
In May 2008, I testified against SB 304, a bill before the Ohio Senate Health, Human Services, and Aging Committee to amend Ohio’s Abandoned Child Act to permit infants up to 30 days of age to be dropped off at state-approved dump centers. I testified in part:
What, in fact, constitutes a legal “safe haven—at least the way it way intended to be used?” I ask this, since it appears that safe haven is routinely abused. As we all feared, instead of an “emergency solution” for panicked parents, it’s turned into a fast-track “adoption plan” for those who find counseling, paper signing and informed adoption surrender tiresome. Of the cases I’ve been able to research though public records and other sources, a good number of Ohio safe havened newborns appear to be born in hospitals to identified women, not women in hiding. Dean Sparks, director of Lucas County Children’s Services, was quoted in the December 1, 2005 Toledo Blade (paid archives) that all three of his county’s safe havened babies were born in hospitals. “The cases I’m familiar with are cases where the mother’s gone to the hospital, she’s delivered the baby in the hospital, and she said, ‘By the way, I don’t want this baby. I want to claim my Safe Haven privilege.”
In a later entry here, I elaborated (again in part):
Dean Sparks, executive director of Lucas County Childrens Services told WTVG-TV, Toledo that he wasn’t sure if expanding the timeframe to 30 days was necessary. He quickly extracted his foot from his mouth, though, adding, “We certainly are supportive of any legislation that is going to keep babies safe and keep babies alive.” Sparks said he didn’t know “off the top of his head” how many babies had been dumped in Toledo-area hospitals, saying it was a couple year. According to my records–taken from statements made earlier by Sparks and quasi-official state records– there have been at least three boarder baby cases, re-invented as “safe havens.” That is, babies born in hospitals to identified mothers, and left there beyond the time of release. In the May 3, 2003 Toledo Blade Sparks announced that a month earlier a baby had been delivered at an unnamed Toledo hospital and left there by the mother “after having referred to the Safe Haven law.” A second baby was left after a hospital birth in July 2003 (no details), and another one (no details) between July 1. 2003-June 30, 2004. ODJFS reports that three (no details) were left in Lucas County in FY 2007 (ended June 30, 2007), but doesn’t specify if they were delivered on the premises or left after the fact. (Non-linked sources: Toledo Blade, May 3, 2003, July 24, 2003; December 1, 2005; paid archives in my possession) In the December 1, 2005 end-of-the year wrap-up Sparks described the “safe haven” process: The cases that I’m familiar with are cases where the mother’s gone to the hospital, she’s delivered the baby in the hospital and she’s said, “By the way, I don’t want this baby. I want to claim my Safe Haven privilege.”
It is difficult to believe that Ohio, which has no kitchen table pushers and virtually no “safe haven” advertising outside of posters, brochures, and an Ohio Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) webpage, could have gathered in more than 63 drive-by newborns [pdf] since the law went into effect April 2000. My ongoing research into Ohio’s “safe haven use, through public records requests, legal records, personal narratives, and news reports, suggests that an ample number of babies marked for the dump were born in hospitals and left there after the time of medical release.
I am bringing this up again because earlier this month Columbus had another “safe haven” miracle: an infant transformed by the government from boarder baby to safe haven baby. The baby was dumped the day after Franklin County Children Services held a press conference (includes video) at a downtown fire station, shilling the HB 304 expansion. The miracle was reported by Rita Price in the August 22, 2009 Columbus Dispatch:
Child-welfare advocates who gathered this week to promote the state’s infant-surrender law didn’t have to wait long for the process to play out in real life.
A woman turned over her newborn to staff members at Doctors Hospital after giving birth there early yesterday, said Doris Calloway Moore, spokeswoman for Franklin County Children Services.
The baby girl weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces and appears to be healthy. The agency will place her in foster care for now.
Moore said officials do not know how the mother became aware of the Safe Havens law, which was discussed in news reports and on television Thursday. Supporters have said the 8-year-old law, which recently was revised, needs to be better publicized.
“It may be coincidence, or she may have seen some of the coverage,” Moore said. “It’s unusual for people to use the words Safe Havens, and she did.”
Hospital officials won’t comment because they want to guard the woman’s privacy. Any discussion could discourage others who want to surrender a child confidentially, spokesman Mark Hopkins said.
Eric Fenner, (right) executive director of Franklin County Children Services, said he thinks Safe Havens laws protect children whose parents already have decided they cannot raise them.
“When a person reaches a point where they are considering abandoning that child, those decisions have been made,” he said. “I don’t think what you see on television influences that.”
Communities should offer safe options to the desperate, Fenner said.
Any guess what Fenner is talking about? Has he never heard of “making an adoption plan” when parents determine they cannot raise a child? Is not legal child surrender covered in the Ohio Revised Code? Are parents who legally surrender a child for adoption prosecuted for doing so? Does he not know that all adoptions, open and closed, are “confidential” and not subject to public perusal? Is he saying that “safe haven” promotion is useless?
In a rare break from the usual ga-ga reaction to baybee saving, Rita Price interviewed me for this article, and some of my comments are included in it.
Like most states, Ohio does not track in any authoritative or professional manner the number of “safe haven” incidents it has experienced nor does it track outcomes, which are treated as state secrets. A few years ago, Franklin County Children’s Services admitted that 5 of its then 8 dumped infants had been returned to parents or kin. I have verified that at least one more has returned home, and understand there are more. I believe infants have been returned in other counties as well, and I continue to ferret out that data.
Last month, Tim Jaccard, who in addition to his duties at AMT-Children of Hope is the president of the National Safe Haven Alliance, a loose group of core “safe haven” kitchenettes, claimed that since 1998, 2,832 newborns have been dumped in the spammer. He claims, increased publicity, especially from the Nebraska Fiasco, has made women more aware of their don’t-ask-don’t-tell abandonment “option” (which I don’t believe), but admits the tanked economy also indicates the uptick. Nick Silverio, in the same article, says the number of calls to his Safe Haven for Newborns receives has increased sharply in the last few months. Like Jaccard, he credits “increased publicity” not hospital facilitation of bad practice, severe cuts in social services, and growing female impoverishment for the calls. Does this mean that “safe haven” is now a poverty busting program?
Even the most intrepid researchers (their number is growing), are hampered by state anonymity “protections” and lack of data, and can dig only so far. The state remains silent outside of a few press statements–if that. Court records are sealed. Due to their baby funneling projects, “insiders” such as Silverio and Jaccard, are often privy to “confidential” case information that the general public, watchdogs, and researchers cannot by law access. With no professional status and requirement to source their claims, these dump pimps skew and spout “facts” and figures with no accessible documentation to validate them. wink wink.
How many “safe haven” cases are genuine walk-in anonymous dumps and how many are really boarder baby incidents? How many “safe havenings” are convenience dumps by women who want a quick fix.? How many are about hiding a child from its father? A substantial number of “safe haven” mothers in Ohio and other states are not phantoms. They are described by age, race, ethnicity, family status/circumstance in publicly accessible documents and “safe haven” adopter narratives.
How many cases are adjudicated as “safe haven” surrenders in juvenile courts and how many are not? How many children are retrieved by parents or kin? How many events become normal adoption surrenders after second thoughts or post-dump counseling ?
How many “clients” understand the consequences of their actions or even know what they’re doing?
How many incidents are misunderstandings or mistakes? In my hometown, Canton, Ohio, Tasha Howell attempted to safe haven her 2-month old son at Mercy Medical Center because she believed she was mandated by law to do so since she was broke and had been turned down for free formula by three local agencies. She thought “safe haven” was a temporary custody arrangement, not that she’d be giving her baby up for stranger adoption. For her trouble, Howell was charged with abandonment and her older children taken into state custody even though ODJFS admitted that the children were clean, fed, well cared for with no signs of neglect or abuse. If the baby had been within the prescribed age limit, Howell would have been erased from her son’s life and congratulated for not killing him.
How much do “safe havens” cost taxpayers? Unlike propaganda that claims “safe havens” are something for nothing, each case burdens the taxpayer with associated medical care, foster care, and legal costs.
Does any sane person actually believe that nearly 3,000 homicidal women have yielded their natural instincts for a few minutes by slipping into ERs and the back doors of fire stations to save their newborns from their own malevolent parental natures?
“Safe haven” critic Erik L. Smith calls baby dump laws “enact an inch, take a mile legislation” As we predicted 10 years ago, ill-thought out baby snatching laws are now “just another option” for the irresponsible, lazy, shamed, ignorant, uninformed, bullied, and manipulated. Promotion has morphed from the original mission of “saving newborns” from their mythological murdering moms to a remedy for child abuse and neglect, abortion, postpartum depression–and now poverty. With ever-expanding time frames, drop-off stations, and even how-to-abandon-your baby school curriculums (California, Illinois), “safe havens” normalize, secertize, and consumerize child abandonment into a positive thing, not the universaily condemed and despised practice it has always been. The laws subvert best practices in child welfare and adoption, slap the face of every parent took the time and care to try to do the right thing (no matter what the outcome) and continue to strip bastards of their rights.
It’s time for states to audit their “safe haven” books. Answer the questions I posed above and more.