Baby abandoned in dumpster shows need for Newborn Safe Haven Laws

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In this photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, Alicia Marie Englert shields her face as she is escorted by police from a home in Kearns, Utah. Charging documents show Englert, a accused of dumping her newborn in a neighbour's trash, that she was afraid to tell her parents about the pregnancy. She was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of attempted murder. The baby girl was in critical condition.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, Alicia Marie Englert shields her face as she is escorted by police from a home in Kearns, Utah. Charging documents show Englert, a accused of dumping her newborn in a neighbour’s trash, that she was afraid to tell her parents about the pregnancy. She was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of attempted murder. The baby girl was in critical condition. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A faint cry from a curbside dumpster belonged to a newborn baby, abandoned by a Utah mother on her way to work.

Police collected the baby, who was abandoned on Aug. 26, KSL reported. The baby was abandoned by her mother despite the fact that all 50 states, including Utah, have enacted some version of a Newborn Safe Haven law that will allow women to anonymously drop off unwanted newborns to hospital personnel with no questions asked and at no risk of legal repercussions.

Utah’s Newborn Safe Haven program came as a result of a bill, HB12, approved in 2001. Since its enactment, the Safe Haven program has safely obtained a total of 12 newborn babies through the program and assisted in supplying support and additional resources to distressed mothers.

Original sponsor of the Newborn Safe Haven legislation back in 2001, State Rep. Patrice Arent, remains passionate about this cause as she serves as chair of the Newborn Safe Haven Committee. Arent was motivated by phone calls in the middle of the night from guilt-ridden mothers who said they wished they had known about the program before they abandoned their children.

The Safe Haven initiative has been specifically targeted at young, unwed mothers who may be unable to care for or too ashamed to provide for their children. “Through this program, we have been able to save lives in ways I didn’t even expect,” Arent said. The main goal is to keep desperate mothers from simply abandoning the child in a dumpster, consequentially ending the child’s life.

The law allows the parent the option to offer information about the child and the situation or to simply remain anonymous. In either situation the police will not be notified. All the parent, or anyone acting with the mother’s permission, needs to do is take the infant to any hospital open 24 hours a day. “The fact that the mothers can stay completely anonymous is very important,” Arent said.

Rather than relinquish a child at a fire station, Arent said, mothers should go to the hospital.

“Each member of the hospital staff is educated on the law; if they are approached by someone they should accept the newborn without question,” Arent said. “Anyone from the hospital, receptionist to the custodian, would not panic; they would get the baby to the appropriate place.”

Hospital staff is trained to take the baby because they know the newborns are safest in their arms. The hospital employees are trained to immediately take the child into an emergency checkup so doctors can assess the child’s health and provide care.

Once the baby has been checked out by doctors, the hospital is instructed to contact the state’s Department of Child and Family Services, which will then place the baby in the state’s foster care program until adoption.

While the Safe Haven laws have been able to preserve the lives of babies who may have otherwise been abandoned, many people believe more resources should be allocated toward this effort.

With sparse funding of only $25,000 each year, the Safe Haven Project has directed its effort in educating a range of women to make them aware of the law and other services available to them.

Julia Robertson, program manager for the Utah Department of Health, has played an active role in overseeing the allocation of these funds for the past two years. She stated that the primary responsibilities of the funds “are to build awareness of the law,” with the utmost priority being to save the child.

Over the past two years, these efforts have involved extensive advertising on local public transit as well as in frequent radio and television spots. In addition, informative presentations in public schools beginning in eight grade health classes have provided greater education and training for both students and teachers. Robertson is also passionate about a newly launched social media campaign using the slogan “There is a safe place for a newborn.”  

These social media initiatives, as well as video campaigns launched on YouTube, have been created with the purpose of informing young women of possible alternatives, solidifying the fact that abandonment should never be an option. “The Newborn Safe Haven project shouldn’t be the first alternative for desperate mothers, but it is a safe last resort,” Robertson said.

“This issue goes across every social and economic group out there; this can happen in any family,” Arent said. She and many others involved with this campaign are passionate about increasing awareness and education about the Newborn Safe Haven Initiative to prevent tragedy like that seen in the recent case from Kearns.

“There is a great need to keep the promotion of the Safe Haven Project going,” Robertson said.

Elizabeth Sollis, communications director and public information officer for Utah’s Department of Human Services, encouraged mothers that may be struggling to utilize these resources. A list of these resourses can be viewed below.

Young women in the Orem or Provo area in need of childcare assistance are urged to reach out to the Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem. The center is designed and fully equipped to assist parents as it provides mentoring programs, therapy and crisis daycare to those in need.

(Informational sidebar?) Resources:

Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem: www.utahvalleyfamilysupport.org

Utah Newborn Safe Haven Initiative: http://www.utahsafehaven.org/

The Utah Newborn Safe Haven has a toll-free hotline (1-866-458-0058) available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer any questions.

Mother To Baby Utah: 1-800-822-BABY (2229)

Child abuse and neglect reporting: 1-855-323-3237 (statewide, 24/7, confidential)

United Way 211: 2-1-1 or online, http://www.uw.org/211/

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