How prevalent is newborn abandonment in the United States?
According to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, 32 to 34 infants were found abandoned each year from 1997-1999. Of these, approximately 20 infants are abandoned in the first 24 hours of their life.
According to a CNN review of FBI statistics, nearly five infants under the age of one are killed in the U.S. each week.
The federal government and most states do not keep statistics specific to abandoned newborns. There is presently no way to clearly determine what portion of infant deaths are due to abandonment.
Why did Illinois pass the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act? Passage of the Act addresses two important issues:
It significantly reduces the risk that a newborn will be abandoned in a perilous environment that may result in death and,
It protects parents who feel they have no option other than abandonment, but who compassionately deliver their newborn to a safe shelter.
Does such legislation encourage abandonment? No. The mother is encouraged to talk to someone even before the baby is born and is encouraged to either keep the baby or to go through normal channels of the adoption process. If a mother comes forward prior to the delivery, she will also be encouraged to seek prenatal care.
Can parents change their minds about relinquishing their newborn? Yes, within a limited time frame. The Illinois Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act allows the parent(s) approximately 60 days to reclaim their infant, subject to counseling and an inquiry by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. After 60 days, a petition to terminate the relinquishing parents' rights is filed with the court. A relinquishing parent may petition that court in an effort to regain parental rights. The relinquishing parents' rights are terminated when the court enters the adoption order.
What happens if the newborn infant is over 30 days old or there is evidence of abuse? The child and parent(s) do not qualify under this Act, and all existing laws and procedures remain in effect. The parent(s) could be investigated and charged with any applicable statutory violations.
What about the baby's medical history? A relinquishing parent may provide information about the infant, including medical history, anonymously at any time. A packet of information is offered to the parent at the time of relinquishment and may be filled out immediately or mailed in at a later date. Providing this information is voluntary. The packet also contains information on how to receive counseling (if desired) as well as information about the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange. It includes a contact number to call if a parent changes her or his mind about relinquishing the infant. Since the purpose of the Act is to save the lives of newborns, it operates on the premise that a safely relinquished newborn without medical records is preferable to an unsafe abandonment that results in injury or death.
What about the father's rights? This Act makes no changes in Illinois law as to fathers' rights. The Putative Fathers' Registry will be searched to identity a putative father after a newborn infant has been relinquished. Notice will be given to any potential putative father discovered in such a search of the registry.
What happens once a newborn is safe and in the hands of authorities? Once the newborn is medically stable, the Department of Children and Family Services appoints a licensed adoption agency to arrange for the infant's placement with an adoptive family.
If the relinquishing parent(s) remain anonymous, how is it known that the individual(s) dropping off the newborn is the parent(s) or is legally entitled to act on the parents' behalf? When infant is relinquished, hospitals notify the police to make sure the baby was not kidnapped. Once it is established that the newborn is relinquished, the baby's adoptive placement proceeds.
How does this legislation prevent the inappropriate creation of a "baby mill," where parents could be encouraged to abandon their babies for adoption? Under the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, hospitals are required to report a relinquished baby to the Department of Children and Family Services. DCFS keeps a list of licensed adoption agencies and assigns each relinquished infant to these agencies on a rotating basis. This takes the placement of the infant out of the hands of anyone who could profit.
Who pays for the medical cost of the newborn? Medicaid pays the cost of medical care for an unharmed relinquished newborn by virtue of the same laws that existed prior to passage of the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act. It is considerably less expensive to treat a newborn who has been safely relinquished to a designated facility than to treat a newborn who has been abandoned unsafely. These funds are part of the public health and child welfare and protective services routinely provided by states.
Does passage of this legislation encourage irresponsible behavior? No. The Act encourages parents to take the responsible action of relinquishing the baby to people who can provide proper medical and other care for the infant, instead of an unsafely abandoning the baby. This decision may effectively save the life of the newborn.
Why do State agencies and Public Departments have to be involved, since there are many private groups who are working in this area? Issues involving child welfare and possible criminal conduct are state issues. In general, the responsibility for child welfare in Illinois is given, by statute, to the Department of Children and Family Services. This state agency may decide to contract out some of its responsibilities to others, but other groups may be at legal peril if they act independently of pertinent regulations and statutes. For instance, only a licensed child-placing or adoption agency may arrange an adoption.
Do other states have similar legislation? Every state now has some version of a baby Safe Haven law. Most recently, and last to follow, the District of Columbia also enacted a similar law in April of 2009.
Is there anything being done at the national level? Yes, the "Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001" (H.R. 2873) was signed by President Bush on January 17, 2002. It enables states to use resources from the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program, the primary Federal resource for services to prevent child abuse and neglect, to support infant safe haven programs (such as Illinois' Act) and launch publicity campaigns, provide related training and technical assistance. It requires the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services to report to the Congress each year on these activities.
The National Safe Haven Alliance was officially incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia on September 21, 2004.
Who tracks of the number of abandoned infants left at hospitals, emergency health care facilities and fire stations? Under the Act, the Department of Children and Family Services is responsible for keeping these statistics. The Save Abandoned Babies Foundation works with DCFS to track this information.
How will the public find out about this new law? This Act makes the Department of Children and Family Services responsible for conducting a public awareness campaign throughout the state of Illinois. There also will be a concerted effort made to make parents aware of available counseling services and the preferable forms of legal adoption procedures currently available to them. June of 2006 the Illinois School Code 105 ILCS 5/27-9.1(c)(9), was passed to require Health Education classes provide course material and instruction about this law. The Save Abandoned Babies Foundation also is working to spread the word about the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act.