Activists: Massachusetts Baby Safe Haven law working to prevent abandonments
BOSTON >> The flip of the calendar to 2016 marked another year in Massachusetts — the fourth out of the past five — with no newborns abandoned by their parents, advocates say.
The last report of a baby abandoned in the state was in April 2014, when an infant was found dead outside a New Bedford home, according to Baby Safe Haven New England.
This was the only abandonment of the last five years, a statistic the group said represents a sharp decline from the years before Massachusetts passed a law allowing parents to surrender a newborn to a hospital, police department or manned fire station.
Passed in 2004, the Safe Haven Act of Massachusetts was written at a time when the state was seeing two to four infant abandonments each year, said Baby Safe Haven New England director Michael Morrisey. From 1999 to 2004, 15 babies were abandoned in Massachusetts, he said.
"When the laws passed, the goal was to stop those numbers. That's what the laws were passed to do," Morrisey said. "We're the only state that's achieved that goal."
Under the law, parents can surrender infants who are seven days old or younger, who are then taken into Department of Children and Families Custody and placed in foster care.
Since the law went into effect, at least 25 babies have been surrendered, according to the most recent statistics from Baby Safe Haven New England.
Morrisey said his group's focus is on preventing any sort of abandonment, not on how often babies are surrendered through program. Outreach efforts also help connect pregnant women with services like adoption support and help them work through options to determine a plan.
"These young women aren't monsters," Morrisey said. "They're just like everybody else, but they start making these successions of mistakes, like a person who gets lost when they're driving. It's almost the same thing. They're not doing it on purpose, but sometimes it just happens that way."
Legislation proposed this session and advanced by the House in November would expand the existing Safe Haven program to include arrangements made with first responders.
Bills filed by Reps. Keiko Orrall (H 114) and Shauna O'Connell (H 108) would allow parents to call 911 and set up a location to meet an emergency responder, to whom they could surrender their newborn.
Morrisey said the bills are designed after similar measures already in place in Vermont and New Hampshire.
"That's the model law for the rest of the country," he said. "If it doesn't pass in this legislative session, we may go to the ballot."
Members of Baby Safe Haven New England say their group is successful largely because they target their message specifically to a youth demographic, with efforts including a 2005 rap video about the law, produced and performed by Boston high school students.
Madelyn Paquette, a 17-year-old spokesperson for the group, said she thinks it helps for young women to hear about the safe haven law from their peers so that it does not sound like a lecture.
"I'm hoping I can reach one girl in a desperate situation," said Paquette, a sophomore at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.
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