SPECIAL TO THE HERALD
After the body of a week-old infant was found in a reservoir in Harwinton, lawmakers and advocates in the state are concerned that the public is not aware of the Safe Havens Act for Newborns that allows parents to voluntarily give up custody of their infant to an emergency room.
Under the act, parents are not required to identify themselves and will not be arrested for abandonment. Newborns must be handed over to the nursing staff of an emergency room within the first 30 days of life, to ensure their safety and provide support for new parents unable to care for their child.
Twenty-seven infants have been safely dropped off at emergency rooms throughout the state since the law was enacted in 2000. So far this year, three newborns have been handed over; two on Jan. 9, and one on Feb. 22, according to United Way 2-1-1, a free health and human service in Connecticut.
“In all 27 cases, the child was taken into custody by the Department of Child and Families, and then put into appropriate homes,” said Annie Scully, research analyst at United Way. DCF then attends a court hearing to apply for legal termination of parental rights and prepare the child for adoption.
Connecticut was the first state in New England to endorse such an act. Lawmakers and advocates are now pushing for the law to be taught in high schools during health class to help spread the message to a target group that turns over every four years, according to the Associated Press.
“The Hospital of Central Connecticut supports efforts to spread the word about this life-saving law,” said Dr. David Buono, chief of emergency medicine at HOCC. “Hospitals are safe havens - we are there for the most vulnerable, and that especially includes infants. The safe havens law provides a safe, humane option; reduces child abandonment and prevents desertion and death. Our emergency room staff are aware of the law, and stand ready to offer help to any distressed family.”
“It’s a fantastic idea to teach it in schools. The more aware the public is of the law, the better,” said Scully. “Because of what happened in Bristol, we have contacted the state to work together in making the law more known to the public and make sure it is something everyone is aware of.”
Every emergency room in the state participates in the Safe Havens Act for Newborns and has trained staff to follow protocol and handle situations of this nature, as long as there are no signs of abuse, explained Scully.
If a parent decides to give up custody, a nurse will meet them and the newborn in a private area of the hospital to ask questions about the parents’ and child’s medical histories, which they are not required to answer.
“United Way has a 24/7 call center to encourage the public to contact us if they are personally in a situation, or know someone who is,” said Scully. “Awareness is the key. There is information online and the public can always call. We are also beginning some campaigns with the state to spread awareness.”
The law was passed, with the help of then-state Rep. Ann Dandrow of Southington, 12 years after the Meriden Police Department found a baby abandoned and frozen to death in a South Meriden parking lot. Dandrow died in January at the age of 80.
The baby was named David Paul, meaning “God’s beloved little man” in the language of Scripture. He was unofficially adopted by the police department and buried at Walnut Grove Cemetery, where a memorial ceremony is still held yearly.
All 50 states and Puerto Rico have safe haven laws that slightly vary, but aim to protect newborns from abandonment. Many of these laws were passed without funding or public awareness campaigns, according to the AP.
The second annual Safe Havens Awareness day in Connecticut was marked on April 4, and is the most recent effort taken by the state and Gov. Dannel Malloy to raise awareness of the issue.
At a ceremony to mark the day state Rep. William A. Petit Jr., R-Plainville, joined legislators from districts throughout Connecticut, urging public education on the importance of the law.
“I am very pleased to be working with the Hospital of Central Connecticut on this critical public awareness campaign,” said Petit. “This hospital, which is an anchor institution in my district, will continue to offer safe haven to babies through this lifesaving law.”
Four newborns have still been abandoned in Connecticut since the law took effect.
One was found in Branford in 2004, two others in Greenwich and Brookfield in 2001 and another in Groton in 2006. All four have been adopted.
A mother was charged with the death of an infant in 2014, when the baby was found in the trash outside an East Hartford home. Another teenage mother in Danbury faced the same charge in 2007, according to the DCF.
The mother of the infant found in Harwinton has since spoken to detectives and the cause of the infant’s death is still being determined.