A baby’s safe surrender
Five months after being given up by his mother at Tahoe Forest Hospital’s maternity ward, Nevada Baby John Doe is on his way to a permanent home.
Baby Doe, as he is called by the state, is one of two infants in Nevada County whose mothers relinquished custody under the California Safely Surrendered Baby Law. Designed to protect unwanted babies from injury or death after being abandoned in Dumpsters and public parks, the law allows parents of a newborn who wish to anonymously give up custody to do so at any hospital emergency room or other designated site.
In Nevada County, since the law was enacted in 2001, two babies have been turned in to safe surrender sites under the program ” both of them at Truckee’s Tahoe Forest Hospital.
According to Ann Holmes Delforge, the hospital’s director of inpatient services, both women who surrendered custody of their babies had been concealing their pregnancies, a situation that happens more often than people think, she said.
The first mother to use the safe surrender program, Delforge said, knew of the law and gave birth in the hospital with the intent of leaving her child in their custody.
The more recent case in October involved a women who had also concealed her pregnancy, but did not have a plan for what she was going to do with her child after giving birth at Tahoe Forest Hospital. Hospital staff made the mother aware of all her options, including the safe surrender program, Delforge said. The mother ultimately chose to leave her baby at the hospital.
“The intent behind the law was to address in California the number of babies that were found in Dumpsters and different places, and the mothers who are now being prosecuted,” Delforge said. “So they thought they could create a safe situation so if somebody does deliver an infant and really does not feel competent caring for that infant, that they could drop it off, keep their anonymity, and the baby would be OK and they would be free from prosecution.”
Delforge said that in both cases in which babies have been surrendered in Truckee, having the option of safely surrendering the child was a positive thing for the mothers.
“It has been a good option. I think for both of those scenarios it really did meet the intent of the law,” Delforge said.
To meet eligibility requirements, babies surrendered must be 72 hours old or younger and the person surrendering the child must be a parent, legal guardian, or someone acting on behalf of the child’s parent or legal guardian.
As long as the child does not show signs of abuse or neglect, the person surrendering the child will not be arrested or prosecuted for doing so.
“It’s still pretty rare in California to see these cases,” said Scott McLeran, a social worker with Nevada County Child Protective Services.
Within Nevada County, the board of supervisors is responsible for designating the safe surrender sites, and the law directs any fire station or emergency room countywide to accept surrendered babies. However, in Truckee and eastern Placer County, many fire stations have not put a plan in place for accepting infants because so many stations go unstaffed for long periods of time.
Once a child is surrendered to a designated safe surrender site, the staff at the location must contact the Nevada County Department of Child Protective Services within 48 hours of receiving the child, and at that point CPS will take custody of the baby and place him or her into foster care.
A 14-day cooling off period follows, during which the parents of the child have the right to request that their custody of the child be restored. It is a safeguard built in to the system to allow for post-partum depression, emergency situations and other potential factors that might convince a parent to surrender their child, McLeran said.
After that period, CPS will work to find the best long-term solution for the child, whether that be adoption, guardianship or long-term foster care.
Typically with newborns, Child Protective Services has no problem finding families willing to adopt the children in their custody, and according to McLeran, adoption is usually preferable because it is the most long-term solution. And in most cases, the foster family that has been taking care of the child will get the first shot at adopting the baby because that family has already bonded with the child.
As for the now-5-month-old Nevada Baby John Doe, adoption looks to be in his future, which will likely be decided at his April 14 juvenile court hearing in Nevada City.