Until last year, a mother who gave up her newborn to the care of a hospital could be prosecuted and jailed for the abandonment of a child.
But legislation passed last summer in New York made the heart-wrenching choice of what to do with an unwanted infant significantly easier, legally allowing mothers to leave their babies in hospitals rather than the dumpsters and parking lots so many have resorted to in the past.
With that in mind, officials at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Ridgewood unveiled Monday their Baby Safe-Haven program, an initiative designed to publicize the legislation and establish hospital protocol for carrying it out.
The Baby Safe-Haven program provides a safe alternative for both mothers and children that will simultaneously prevent crime and save lives, said Dominick J. Gio, president and chief executive officer at Wyckoff.
The program formalizes for Wyckoff and a network of Brooklyn hospitals what the legislation already put in place last year a guarantee that mothers who deem themselves unfit to care for a newborn child can leave the baby in a safe place without fear of legal reprisal.
Under the Abandoned Infant Protection Act passed last summer by the state Legislature, a parent will not be subject to prosecution if he or she leaves a newborn baby unharmed in a safe location, such as a hospital, firehouse or police station or with a responsible adult.
We have to stop the tragedy of children delivering children to dumpsters rather than hospitals, firehouses and other suitable locations, said Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes at the news conference announcing the program.
The initiative is a cooperative effort between the hospital and the Brooklyn district attorneys office, which Hynes said very willingly gave up its obligation to prosecute baby-abandoning mothers in exchange for the guaranteed safety of the children.
While the legislation gives mothers the right to leave their newborns at any hospital, the Baby Safe-Haven program establishes the internal policies and procedures governing how Wyckoff will respond when admitting a child under such circumstances. For instance, although the hospital guarantees the mothers anonymity, she will be asked to fill out a health questionnaire to provide significant details about her familys health history that may be relevant to the care of her child.
Once left at the hospital, the baby immediately comes under the custody of the Administration of Childrens Services, which places the child into foster care until a legal adoption can be arranged.
A law presently being considered would greatly increase the speed at which a child rescued through the program could be placed for adoption by allowing the birth mothers rights to the baby to be terminated within six months.
The Abandoned Infant Protection Act created a legal mechanism for something Timothy Jaccard has been doing for the past two years.
Jaccard founded the Long Island-based AMT Children of Hope Foundation in 1999 after four abandoned babies died within a period of three months in the metro area.
Although the organization was originally created to provide dignified burials for abandoned newborns, Jaccard soon adjusted the mission to focus on preventing their deaths.
Jaccard initially made informal agreements with district attorneys which allowed mothers to leave their newborn babies in his care without reprisal, an arrangement that served as a blueprint for this legislation, which is now on the books in 27 states.
Jaccard said nine babies in the metropolitan area have been saved so far this year through the legislation.
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) praised the hospital and the Brooklyn district attorneys office for their proactive response to the legislation.
There is nothing more important than when you know what you are doing can save peoples lives, Velazquez said. Thank you from so many mothers who are out there desperate and in pain.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2001 Community News Group
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