Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Expanded Safe Place for Newborns law will protect infants who are at risk

This spring, in response to cases of infant abandonment in recent years (including a baby left in the Mississippi River last fall), the Legislature revised the state's Safe Place for Newborns law, originally enacted in 2000. The expanded policy goes into effect this month.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) issued a news release this morning:
Enacted in 2000 and amended in 2012, the law allows a mother, or someone acting with her permission, to safely surrender her unharmed infant born within the past seven days to a designated safe place. A safe place includes a hospital, an urgent care facility during its hours of operation, or an ambulance that is dispatched in response to a 911 call. Previously, the law allowed for the safe surrender of infants born within 72 hours, and designated safe places were hospitals only.

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"This amendment strengthens our law, ensuring children are safe, and giving frightened, sometimes distraught mothers an option if they are unable to care for their newborns," said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

The law protects the newborn, the parent and the individual leaving the baby. Upon receiving an infant, personnel at the safe place must not try to determine the identities of the people involved. Nor can they call the police. Safe place providers arrange for immediate medical care of the baby and must contact social services for assistance within 24 hours of receiving an infant.

"As a mother, I understand what a woman goes through post-delivery, especially when she feels she has no options or hope," said the bill's chief Senate author Sen. Michelle Benson. "This law expands the window to seven days and broadens drop off locations. It also allows mothers the additional option of requesting an ambulance to come get the baby without facing the threat of prosecution. The law focuses on doing what is best for babies and their mothers."

"This is a great example of the good work that can be done when elected officials and department staff put politics aside and work together," said the bill's chief House author Rep. Jim Abeler. "Because of this collaboration, some children will get the chance to experience life with one of the many families that are waiting to open their homes and hearts to a child."
Information about this lifesaving option should be widely disseminated across Minnesota. DHS has provided a fact sheet (available online here) and a poster display (available here, and shown above).