Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bill approved, adds safe havens to leave newborns

Police, fire units are included By Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • May 13, 2009 Tennessee mothers will have more places to turn over newborns to the state under a bill passed last week by lawmakers and awaiting signature by Gov. Phil Bredesen. But the key organization in promoting the program's expansion may not have the funds to inform mothers of the pending change. The bill, SB 1714, expands such "safe haven" sites to include police departments, fire departments and emergency medical services facilities, as long as they are staffed around the clock. Hospitals, birthing centers, community health clinics and walk-in clinics are already designated as newborn drop sites under the law. At least 22 children have been turned over to the state under the Safe Haven law since 2004, said Shannon McCloud, executive director for Maryville-based A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee. "If adding these locations just saves one baby, it's definitely worthwhile," McCloud said. Tennessee passed its Safe Haven law in 2001, after a newborn girl died shortly after being found in a shed in Townsend, Tenn. The baby's teenage mother had abandoned the child. Under the law, mothers can turn over their unharmed children within 72 hours of birth to employees of the eligible locations. Employees can ask mothers about the family and the child, but the mother does not have to provide any information. All 50 states have enacted some form of the Safe Haven law, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance, and many already include police and fire departments as safe places. Nebraska's state legislature brought national attention to Safe Haven laws in 2008 when it passed a version of the bill that did not include age limits, leading to several cases in which parents from across the country abandoned their children, including teenagers, at locations throughout the state. Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said the department's downtown headquarters probably would be the only Metro police building to fall under the expanded provisions. "Once the bill is signed into law, we'll brief Police Department personnel on how we'll comply with it and things we should watch for," Aaron said. Governor likely to sign Bredesen is likely to sign the bill into law, but funds to inform Tennesseans of the expansion may be in short supply. A Secret Safe Place has received $25,000 of its annual $60,000 budget from a state grant for each of the last three years. The state funds have been used to provide information to mothers turning in children and to advertise the law in locations including health clinics, colleges and universities. This year, the money isn't in the state budget, said bill sponsor Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who co-founded the Tennessee chapter of A Secret Safe Place and serves as unpaid legal counsel. "We're just going to have to roll up our sleeves and redouble fundraising efforts," Overbey said. "The mission is important, and we'll have to continue to get the word out that there are safe havens in Tennessee."

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