While only the eighth most populous state in the United States, Georgia has the second highest rate of babies abandoned by their mothers and has the largest number of babies on the East Coast abandoned in just their first few days of life.
Recently, this alarming epidemic drew national attention with the story of Baby India, a newborn who was found clinging to life, bloody and with her umbilical cord still attached, in a plastic bag near a wooded area in Forsyth County, Georgia. A local family heard Baby India’s cries and came to her rescue. Thankfully, experts, media commentators, and advocates are hearing the cries of babies like India and hoping to point mothers to Georgia’s Safe Haven Law.
Baby India’s mother, who remains unknown, probably did not know about Georgia’s Safe Haven Law. Enacted by the State Legislature in 2002 and revised in 2017, the Safe Haven Law ensures that a mother leaving her newborn at a medical facility, police station or firehouse will not be held criminally responsible for maltreating or abandoning the child. Specifically, the law prevents prosecution of the mother for the crimes of “cruelty to a child,” “contributing to the delinquency, unruliness, or deprivation of a child,” or “abandonment of a dependent child.” In order to get these protections, the mother must leave the child in the physical custody of any employee, volunteer, or other agent of a medical facility, police station or fire station.
The Safe Haven Law has also recently become more expansive. Before late 2017, it required a newborn to be dropped off within seven (7 days) and required proof of identification from the mother. But an updated version allows for thirty (30) days to deliver a baby to an emergency services facility or hospital. Also, the rules for providing identification have become more lenient and now identification is only taken if the mother is willing to provide it or if the facility sees signs of physical abuse. The Law is designed to offer judgment-free protection for mothers with any range of circumstances including but not limited to drug addiction, mental illness, unsupportive or dangerous fathers and families, and lack of financial resources – which often make the mothers feel that they have no option but to abandon their babies.
While the Safe Haven Law provides protection for the mother and child, it does even more. It offers a chance to connect a vulnerable baby with the resources that can save his or her life. The law provides an inroad to the Department of Human Services, which provides reimbursement to the facilities accepting the babies. This means ready connection to state resources and adoption agencies which strive to connect babies with families who are desperate to provide a child a loving home. As with Baby India, who has experienced a global outpouring of support and offers to adopt, the mechanisms of the Safe Haven Law can mean an abandoned child’s second chance at a life his or her mother could not provide.
Adoption is still an underutilized resource for these women, who believe their only choice is parenting, once a child is carried to term. Many experts believe that those that may need the Safe Haven Law the most don’t even know that it exists. While each one of us will not be able to care for or adopt Baby India, we can educate and spread awareness about the Safe Haven Laws. Perhaps this will lower a child’s risk of being placed in a dumpster or discarded in a freezer. Moving one step further, we can also spread awareness that adoption is a possible option because there are so many families waiting to welcome and love a child into their home.