HARTFORD — After the death of an abandoned baby in East Hartford, state officials are reminding troubled parents of the Safe Haven law, which shields parents from prosecution if they surrender a baby under 30 days old at a hospital emergency room.
Since 2000, 23 babies have been safely turned over to hospitals under the law, and 90 percent have been adopted, officials said at a news conference Tuesday. But five other babies have been abandoned, including the baby who died in East Hartford after being left in a trash can last week.
"We have to reach the next generation of people who don't know what this law is," said state Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton, a co-sponsor of the original bill.
Sawyer is teaming up with the Department of Children and Families, officials at local hospitals, and other advocates to get the word out.
Organizers nationally say it's crucial that young people be used as spokespersons for these initiatives to reach the target audience of girls and women aged 13 to 30.
DCF is also including material about the Safe Haven law in an awareness campaign about safe sleep for infants, the leading cause of non-medical deaths of babies in Connecticut. DCF Deputy Commissioner Michael Williams reiterated at Tuesday's news conference that the number of maltreatment deaths of infants has spiked in the past year and a half.
Every state in the country has a version of a Safe Haven law. Many allow babies to be surrendered at fire and police stations as well as hospitals. In Connecticut, only hospitals qualify under the law.
Sawyer noted that some rural fire and police stations aren't staffed late at night and valuable time could be lost. She said parents can call 911 or the 211 information line for help in following the Safe Haven law.
Once a baby is surrendered, the mother has 30 days to change her mind. After 30 days, parental rights are terminated and DCF takes custody of the child. The department then works to fast-track an adoption, Sawyer said. Hospitals can ask the mother questions about the health of the baby, but the mother does not have to answer.
DCF provides support and assistance to the infant's new family, officials said. The families must be licensed to adopt or provide foster care.
Nationally, 50 babies were abandoned last year and 40 died, despite the prevalence of Safe Haven laws.
"It is imperative that our citizens — particularly young mothers — are aware they have options if they cannot adequately care for their child," Sawyer said
Officials stressed, however, that anyone observing abuse or neglect of an infant should immediately call the DCF Careline to report it.
Four of the five babies that have been abandoned in Connecticut since 2000 have survived.