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Safe Haven program needs more publicity

September 29, 2005

District Court Judge Ralph France this week set bond at $500,000 for a Hagerstown woman charged with abandoning her newborn baby by placing him underneath a pile of wood.

Following the hearing, Gordon Lynn, the attorney for Kelly Erin Ruck, told The Herald-Mail that he would present psychiatric testimony that when his client abandoned her child, she was not criminally responsible.

The charges against Ruck include attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and contributing to the condition of a child.

To speculate on Ruck's guilt or innocence in advance of a trial would be irresponsible on our part.

What we can say is that women in such a situation - pregnant, but unable to care for the child - have an alternative.

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It's called the Safe Haven program and it allows parents to surrender a child up to three days old to police or to a hospital with no penalty, provided the child has not been abused.

In 2002, Maryland was the 38th state to initiate a Safe Haven law. In addition to allowing parents to surrender children to police or hospital personnel, parents also can give the child to any responsible adult, such as a member of the clergy, an attorney or a physician.

Parents in need also can call 1-800-243-7337 and remain anonymous as they receive information about child care and how to obtain medical treatment for an infant.

According the University of Maryland Medical Center, surrendered children are then offered for adoption through the state's foster care system.

Stories about Safe Haven programs in Pennsylvania and Maryland were printed in The Herald-Mail in February and April, but agencies need to do more publicity.

If information about this program isn't part of local school systems' Family Life and health classes, it should be. And, agencies charged with promoting child welfare should use the Ruck case to spread information about the program.

The Safe Haven program is often called the "Baby Moses Law" after the biblical story in which Moses' mother abandoned her child in an effort to give him a better life. The Safe Haven program allows people who believe they can't be effective parents to give their child a chance to become part of a family that is willing and able to care for it.

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