April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month and there will be opportunities throughout the month to learn about ways to prevent abuse.
Safe Haven for Newborns is an example of a critical child abuse prevention strategy. All states have Safe Haven laws that allow parents to surrender newborns without fear of prosecution, but few mothers who abandon their babies know about these laws. The laws vary from state to state, but the bottom line is saving lives of innocent babies. Safe Haven laws provide a legal option to birth parents who are unable or unwilling to raise a child to legally relinquish a newborn at a Safe Haven location.
Missouri's Safe Haven law has been on the books since 2002 and there is now proposed legislation before the General Assembly to clarify and expand the 10-year-old law - House Bill 1568. Rep. Kevin McManus is sponsor of House Bill 1568. The good news is that the House Committee on Children and Families passed McManus' bill unanimously. Advocates are hopeful that Rep. Diehl, chair of the House Rules Committee, will act on the bill very soon in order for it to move on to the full House of Representatives and then to the Senate.
According to the statistics kept with the Missouri Department of Social Services, Safe Havens have been used 31 times since 2005. In three St. Louis cases, living newborns have been found in dumpsters and behind a St. Charles County fast-food restaurant. Grass clippings, other refuse and even a sealed plastic trash bag were credited with keeping the babies insulated and alive. Sadly, a newborn was abandoned and died in a pond near Moberly in 2011 and in February 2012 a baby was left in someone's yard in Ellisville.
During Child Abuse Prevention Month 2011, Attorney General Chris Koster stated that: "Missouri's Safe Haven law dates back to 2002. It is unfortunate that any mother unable to care for her child would not be aware that she can legally hand over the baby at a hospital, police station, or fire station. The law was designed to save lives, but it can only do so if we make sure every Missourian knows about it."
Child Abuse Prevention Month is an opportunity for all citizens to not only learn more about preventing abuse, but it is also an important chance to find out about preventing unnecessary deaths of abandoned newborns in our communities!