Safe Haven laws for newborn babies are in the news after Indiana installed Safe Haven Baby Boxes to provide new moms a safe way give up their babies, rather than just abandoning the infants.
In Indiana, the Safe Haven Baby Box is an extension of the state’s Safe Haven law, which allows parents to have complete anonymity when giving up an unwanted newborn younger than 45 days without being arrested or prosecuted, according to news reports.
The Indianapolis Star reported that two boxes have been installed at two fire stations, one in Woodburn and another in Michigan City.
The boxes are heated and padded incubators that alert emergency workers when a baby is placed inside.
Not everyone is so sure about baby boxes.
The State Department of Health wrote a report that recommended the boxes not be used and that efforts to increase awareness of the Safe Haven Law should be made instead.
Does Georgia have a similar program?
In Georgia, a safe haven law allows mothers of newborns up to 7 days old to drop off the child at a medical facility without fear of prosecution for abandoning the infant.
Georgia's law is based on the Safe Place for Newborns Act, enacted by the General Assembly in 2002.
According to the Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services: “A medical facility would include any licensed hospital, county health center or a licensed birthing center. A medical facility does not include a private doctor’s office or a dentist. Police and Fire stations are not included under the provisions of the Safe Place for Newborns Act.”
The law also requires that the newborn must be left in the physical custody of an on-duty employee, agent or member of the staff of a medical facility. This person may be either in a paid or a volunteer position with the facility. The mother is also encouraged to provide her name and address to the person receiving the child.
Police and child advocates say birth parents who are unable to care for a newborn have a number of safe options, and it’s important to ask for help.
“The law sends a message of safety and a message of protection,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur. “We know women in very frightening and vulnerable situations give birth outside hospitals and are not prepared in that particular hour to care for that baby, and we want frightened mothers to feel safe, and for them to have a safe place for the baby; and they shouldn’t have to feel threatened or feel they will be arrested or detained.”
It’s unclear just how many babies have been saved over the past 14 years. A Georgia Department of Human Resources press release from 2006, just four years after the safe haven law was enacted, indicated that more than 300 Georgia children had been saved from abandonment, thanks to the law.
What about baby boxes? Oliver seemed unsure the boxes are a good idea.
“Is it realistic that we can provide this specific kind of tangible object?” she said. “I am not sure it’s realistic. I would rather a woman be encouraged to give her baby to a person in a health care facility… . It is hard to to know what is going to attract a woman who is desperate and frightened. (Are the boxes) realistic or should we use our resources to direct her to a medical facility where she can feel safe?”
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