Every state in the U.S. has enacted safe surrender laws governing how mothers can hand over their newborns confidentially and with no questions asked in the event they are unable to care for their baby.
Under this law, women who voluntarily surrender their babies according to specific guidelines are protected from prosecution for child abandonment.
Karen Lichti, Chester Fire Department public information officer, reported to the Chester Public Utility District Board of Directors at its regular meeting Feb. 20 that she has gathered information for the state-run Baby Safe Haven program, created under the Safely Surrendered Baby Law. That program is expected to be implemented soon at the CFD.
The California Department of Social Services offers Safely Surrendered Baby Law kits for designated fire stations free of charge.
“This program provides a safe place for mothers who have just given birth that wish to give up their babies,” Lichti said, instead of throwing them in a trash can, leaving them on a changing table at the airport or dropping them off at the front door of a church.
The Baby Safe Haven program is designed to designate a safe location to surrender the baby, where the infant can be taken into the foster care system where he or she can be suitably cared for.
“We recently sent a letter to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors,” Lichti continued, asking them to authorize Chester Fire as a baby drop-off facility once the state approves the location. “… They replied back that yes, the supervisors approved of the program at CFD.”
If a mother has a baby that is less than 72 hours old, she or another family member that has permission, can bring the baby to CFD and deliver the infant to the on-duty staff, Lichti said, once the program is established at the firehouse in the coming weeks.
“The staff will immediately place a two-part bracelet on the baby’s wrist,” with one half of the bracelet given to the mom, “so that if she changes her mind within a few days, she can retrieve her baby.”
She said that the mother would also be handed a medical history questionnaire that “we hope she’ll fill out when she drops off the baby, or she can take it home to fill out and mail the questionnaire back in the pre-paid postage envelope we’ll provide.”
That way, Lichti explained, there will at least be some family history for the baby wherever it ends up for adoption or in foster care.
After they receive the baby at the fire station, he or she will be taken to Seneca Hospital where medical personnel will check the baby’s health and render any care the infant needs until Child Protective Services is called to pick the baby up.
Other than transporting the infant to Seneca Hospital, there is no cost to the district to implement the program, she told the board members.
Depending on region, statistics show that in recent years fewer babies are being abandoned in undesirable locations in California, according to literature supplied by Lichti on the Safe Baby Haven program.
Lichti said the program should be up and running once the state has received the necessary paperwork from the CFD, and mailed back materials that will be used in the program.
Women who decide to give their babies up have a phone number to call where a representative can provide a list of locations in the county accepting unwanted babies.
Until the CFD begins the Baby Safe Haven program at the firehouse, the following toll-free telephone hotline provides information and the locations of safe surrender sites: 877-222-9723 or visit babysafe.ca.gov.
A quorum of CPUD board of directors voted to approve the Baby Safe Haven program at the end of the meeting, instructing Lichti to move forward on the plan.
More information on the pending Baby Safe Haven program at CFD will be forthcoming soon.
Babies should NOT be dropped off at the Chester Fire Department until notice is given that the program is active.