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Program provides Safe Haven option for mothers of newborns

April 01, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - In March 2004, a park ranger discovered the body of a newborn baby wrapped in sheets in a garbage bag under the U.S. 340 bridge in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Investigators have said they believe someone tried to throw the bag, which was weighed down with three 5-pound barbells, into the Shenandoah River. The baby, they said, probably died from injuries in the fall.

Several Washington County agencies hope to prevent a similar incident from happening here.

The agencies on Thursday announced the start of a local Safe Haven program, which gives a mother who decides not to raise her newborn the option of anonymously dropping off the infant at various locations without repercussions.

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A mother who decides to use the Safe Haven program can drop off the baby at the Hagerstown, Smithsburg and Hancock police departments, the Washington County Sheriff's Department, the Maryland State Police barrack or at Washington County Hospital.

"We're not being there to interrogate anyone," Hagerstown Police Detective Shane Blankenship said. "We don't need to know your name. We don't need to know your address."

Washington County Health Department Health Officer William Christoffel said the program also would serve as a deterrent to abortion, because it allows a mother to relinquish custody of her baby without having to say why.

"The purpose of the program is to protect the baby," Christoffel said during a press conference on the program.

The Safe Haven program applies to infants 72 hours old or younger who show no signs of abuse or neglect. A mother, father, friend or family member may drop the baby off at a Safe Haven site, according to information provided at the press conference.

A person at the Safe Haven site will ask a few questions about the baby, but answering is not required under state law, according to the information.

After the baby is dropped off, he or she will be taken to Washington County Hospital for a medical checkup. When the baby is discharged, the Department of Social Services will place the baby in foster care while it seeks the termination of parental rights and finds a permanent home for the infant.

The Safe Haven program was approved by the state in 2002 but wasn't implemented in Washington County until now.

Pediatrician Dr. William Kerns, of Smithsburg Family Medical Center, said that while abandoning a baby is illegal, the Safe Haven program gives mothers the option of legally relinquishing custody of the infant.

Kerns said the program allows the mother to "go about her life knowing that the baby will be taken care of."

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