Washington’s “safe haven” law offers overwhelmed parents a place to turn newborns over to protective care at hospitals and fire stations, but the baby abandoned on a Lakewood lawn Monday was too old to qualify.
Still, the mother of that infant, charged with second-degree abandonment over her alleged treatment of her 5-month-old son, could have turned to authorities for help in other ways.
Among them is a hotline, 866-END-HARM, run by the state Department of Social and Health Services/Children’s Administration.
It connects troubled parents with Child Protective Services, which can connect people in need with counseling for mental health or substance-abuse issues, DSHS spokeswoman Norah West said.
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Contacting CPS does not inevitably lead to losing custody of a child, West said. The agency offers some services to parents considering adoption.
“We really want to work with them to alleviate whatever that immediate crisis is,” West wrote in an email, “and help them safely parent their children, to whom they have a legal responsibility.”
Parents who immediately know they cannot care for a newborn have a state-assisted path to surrender the child without questions.
Under a state law enacted in 2002, a child up to three days old can be handed over to emergency room or fire department staff, who will make sure the infant is turned over to CPS for placement.
All 50 states have a version of this law, with varying maximum child ages.
The highest limit now in effect is in North Dakota, where parents can hand over a child anytime before the first birthday. Nebraska initially legalized parents surrendering children up to 18 years old, but changed its limit to 30 days after a series of drop-offs of adolescents.
CPS records show that from 2009 to 2016, 43 babies in Washington were relinquished under the safe haven law, 34 of them at hospitals.
Four of the newborns were surrendered in the region that includes Pierce County — one in 2011, two in 2013 and one in 2016. West said she could not provide specifics on any of the Pierce County cases because of confidentiality concerns.