"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

August 31, 2007

Cooley Dickinson Hospital Posts 'Baby Safe Haven' Signs

The State of MA. Baby Safe Haven Hotline number for any mother contemplating the abandonment of their baby is 866-814-SAFE. The National Hotline number is 888-510-BABY. The phone lines are open 24 hours.

Curious about the large, bold, green and black signs hung on sign posts at the entrances to Cooley Dickinson Hospital, -including street side near the intersection of the main entrance, on heavily trafficked Rt.9- we set about looking for the reason behind it. And we like what we uncovered.

The State of MA's Baby Safe Haven Law, enacted in 2004 by then Governor Healey, was set to expire next year. On August 21st, Gov. Deval Patrick made the law permanent. The signs recently affixed to the entrances of Cooley Dickinson Hospital remind people of the law. The Baby Safe Haven is now law in 48 states, with Nebraska and Alaska without such legislation.

The law allows a mother to voluntarily leave a newborn seven days old or younger with the appropriate persons at a designated facility -without fear of criminal prosecution- provided the newborn shows no signs of neglect or abuse. Hospitals, police stations and manned fire departments are the three facilities designated to accept newborns. The guidelines set forth by the Baby Safe Haven dep't of the MA Dep't of Social Services ensure the parents(s) are to be treated with respect, thanked for bringing the infant to a safe place, and are encouraged to provide relevant family history. The Baby Safe Haven website has a FAQ listing the procedures facilities should follow upon receiving a newborn from a parent.

The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association has posted their own guidelines to follow, in the unlikely event a newborn is brought to a police station, as opposed to an emergency care facility.

Dispatchers and station commanders should be aware of what is expected. A call to the local office of the Department of Social Services should be made. DSS then immediately assumes custody and is responsible for paying for medical expenses. (In fact, MassHealth covers the child 10 days retroactivity.) The second call should be for an ambulance. The baby should be taken immediately to the Emergency Room of a "trauma" hospital.
The Baby Safe Haven law, enacted to help prevent the deaths of abandoned newborns, is not without some controversy. Northamptonist can empathise with individuals who have reservations about this law, and we strongly believe that armed with the right facts and information, those who would be opposed to such legislation might be more inclined to support it.

Not only do the Safe Haven laws, as they are known, decriminalize the abandoment of a newborn, providing a safe alternative for expectant mothers who are contemplating a dangerous abandonment of their newborn, but additionally, as the Boston Globe recently reported,
The law not only eases the surrendering of children, but offers information to expectant mothers. One of the most successful components of the program, [DSS spokeswoman Denise]Monteiro said, has been the Baby Safe Haven Hotline, which gives would-be parents information about the law, crisis intervention services, and referrals to teen pregnancy shelters.

"We have the services out there; we just need to connect the expecting mothers to the service," Monteiro said.

Through the hotline, 35 mothers have developed a successful pregnancy plan with the staff, ensuring that those newborns were not abandoned, DSS officials said.
We applaud the State of MA., and Cooley Dickinson Hospital for taking steps to help publicize the law and their facility as a designated Baby Safe Haven facility, and in doing so, helping to further the awareness of the legislation. Eighteen months after the law was passed in 2004, a young woman in Westfield abandoned her baby in trash receptacle. It's not clear if she knew about the law, didn't care, or was in a frightened state of panic. Publicizing this law and the gentle and compassionate procedures involved to get the mother and child the help they need, without fear of prosecution, -and targeting the information to those who need it most- will help insure what happened in Westfield doesn't have to happen anywhere in the commonwealth of MA again.

In the Cristian Science Monitor article about these laws and their effectiveness, an expert on neonaticide, (the murder of an infant immediately after or within a few hours of birth) was quoted as saying,
"It strains the imagination to think that girls who have been so paralyzed for nine months that they've kept their pregnancy a secret could suddenly pull themselves together postpartum to get safe transportation to a hospital or fire station," says Dr. Oberman. "I think we have to ask: Are these laws really reaching these girls?" If they're not, she says, we need to get busy modifying them so that they do."
The very public nature of those hard to ignore, bright green signs, should serve as a nice starting point.

LABELS: cooley dickinson hospital public policy