Jessica Hanson didn’t meet basic standards of how to safely and legally give up her child. Hanson, who faces charges of dumping her infant son on a stranger’s Lakewood lawn last week, didn’t even come close.
Washington law requires a parent to leave a newborn in the care of a qualified person at a hospital, fire station or rural health clinic within three days of birth. According to law enforcement records, Hanson left her 5-month old child in the grass, cold and alone, after midnight April 3 after she took drugs and hallucinated about Russian mafia pursuers.
She was charged with second-degree abandonment of a dependent person and pleaded not guilty Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court.
The 31-year-old woman stands accused of harebrained actions that engender no sympathy, except for the baby. This isn’t a case of a desperate mother showing enough responsibility to hand over a child she loves but is ill-prepared to raise — the kind of parent that safe haven laws in all 50 states were created to help.
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But it does offer a grim reminder that Washington has all kinds of unfit parents of many ages, backgrounds and circumstances, risking the lives of children who remain fragile long after birth. God bless all kids stuck with the myriad clueless moms and dads lacking parenting skills, emotional maturity and support systems.
Hanson’s arrest also might bring indirect attention to Washington’s 15-year-old safe haven law, which is on the Legislature’s radar right now.
The Senate passed a bill this session ordering child welfare officials to collect and publish a range of data each year; they would report all instances of safe, lawful transfers of babies as well as all cases of illegal abandonment. Parents who do it the right way would continue to forfeit custody with no criminal liability and have their identities protected.
Senate Bill 5522 is a fairly straightforward call for more information, and it merits support from the House and the governor.
The original law was adopted recognizing that timely prenatal and postnatal health care are crucial for newborns to have a fighting chance.
Every heartbreaking case of infanticide — the newborn girl found dead in the woods near North Bend in 2014, or the body in a Connecticut reservoir last month, to name a few — speaks to the need for safe havens. And every confused new parent the law could have helped — like the 22-year old woman charged with abandonment after leaving her baby outside a Federal Way church in 2008 — speaks to the need for greater public awareness.
The information compiled under SB5522 could help target the right demographic groups using the best outreach tools, such as high school health classes for pregnant teens or public service announcements for non-English-speaking adults.
It also might indicate whether the law goes far enough. If data were to show a large number of older babies (like Hanson’s 5-month-old), might legislators consider raising the age threshold? There’s nothing sacred about Washington’s 72-hour legal transfer window. Some states give protection to parents of babies 30 to 90 days old; Missouri and North Dakota offer grace for a full year.
An average of six children are surrendered by parents each year under Washington’s safe haven law, no questions asked.
Some might say that’s six too many. But in a world where babies are abandoned in cold grass and other appalling alternatives, we suspect it’s not nearly enough.