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A BETTER ALTERNATIVE From 1991 to 1998, the incidence of child abandonment in public places increased 62%. Of the 105 children abandoned in public places in 1998, 33 were found dead. In New Jersey, dramatic accounts in the newspapers and television underscored the problem. In November of 1996, Wyckoff residents Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson dumped their newborn into a motel trash bin in Newark, Delaware. In June of 1997, Melissa Drexler of Aberdeen Township gave birth in a public bathroom stall, next to where her high school prom was being held. She wrapped the baby in a garbage can liner, put it in the trashcan, and returned to her prom. In both cases, the babies died. Grossberg, Peterson, and Drexler all went to prison. The parents — or someone acting on their behalf — can bring a baby less than 30 days old to any hospital emergency room or police station in the state of New Jersey. The purpose of safe haven laws is to ensure that relinquished infants are left with persons who can provide the immediate care needed for their safety and well-being. To that end, approximately eight States require parents to relinquish their infants to a hospital.8 Other States designate additional entities as safe haven providers, including emergency medical services, police stations, and fire stations. In four States (Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Vermont), emergency medical technicians responding to a 9-1-1 call may accept an infant. In addition, four States (Arizona, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Vermont) and Puerto Rico allow churches to act as safe havens, but the relinquishing parent must first determine that church personnel are present at the time the infant is left. Generally, anyone on staff at these institutions can receive an infant; however, many States require that staff receiving an infant be trained in emergency medical care. The safe haven provider is required to accept emergency protective custody of the infant and to provide any immediate medical care that the infant may require. In 10 States, when the safe haven receiving the baby is not a hospital, the baby must be transferred to a hospital as soon as possible.9 The provider is also required to notify the local child welfare department that an infant has been relinquished. In 21 States, the provider is required to ask the parent for family and medical history information.10 In 17 States, the provider is required to attempt to give the parent or parents information about the legal repercussions of leaving the infant and information about referral services.11 In four States (California, Connecticut, Delaware, and North Dakota), a copy of the infant's numbered identification bracelet may be offered to the parent as an aid to linking the parent to the child if reunification is sought at a later date. If the mother brings in the baby, she will be offered medical treatment and social services. She can, of course, refuse if she wishes. Once she has safely turned over the baby, she is free to go. The parents can later come forward to seek custody of the baby, but after 21 days, DYFS will initiate court proceedings to terminate parental rights and begin the adoption process. Safe haven providers are given protection from liability for anything that might happen to the infant while in their care, unless there is evidence of major negligence on the part of the provider. The intent of Safe Haven is to protect unwanted babies from being hurt or killed because they were abandoned. Abandoning a baby puts the child in extreme danger and, too often, it results in the child's death. It is also illegal, with severe consequences. It may be difficult for a law to change the way a very frightened person may act, but the rate of infant abandonment dropped after the law was enacted. In the 12 months before Safe Haven was passed, eight babies were abandoned in public places. In the first 12 months of Safe Haven, there were only two. As of August 2007, 33 newborns have been surrendered under Safe Haven. Other cases didn't qualify as Safe Haven babies for technical reasons, but nevertheless those babies are now safe because their mothers knew about the Safe Haven law.
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