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Safe Haven Bill, By Capital Means

Shari€ Wright WI Contributing Writer | 4/15/2009, 5:08 p.m.

For the mothers and/or fathers that find themselves in predicaments where they are unable or unwilling to care for their infant, the Safe Haven Act provides an uncomplicated means of assistance; offering simply, that said parent may bring in their child to any hospital, fire station or police station and leave them in capable hands.

In the attempt to understand the emotions of a parent who is forced to give up their child, D.C. City Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) proposed the Safe Haven Bill.

Catania is the Chairperson of the Committee on Health and is on the Finance and Revenue, Libraries, Parks and Recreation and Government Operations and the Environment Committees, was moved to motion for this bill after an event in late January where an 18 year old mother gave birth to and left her baby at United Medical Center, and was found and later prosecuted for the act. According to Catania, in regards to any parallel instances, €This is not the reaction we look for, these are not the circumstances we want surrounding these occurrences. We would like to have a policy in place that doesn€t add to the frustration with matters like this.€

All 50 states have some variation of the Safe Haven Act, with only the District outstanding. €D.C. hasn€t had much of a proven need for this law, but I don€t see any harm in having it,€ Wells said. Wells also chairs the Committee on Human Services and is member of the Committees on Health, Economic Development and on Public Services and Consumer Affairs. He and Catania are proposing a law which includes the stipulations that the child in question can be no more than seven days old; the person relinquishing the child may remain anonymous; the parent may or may not offer details about the child; and the parent may come back for the child within 72 hours. Participating stations are to post signage indicating the terms of the law.

The Safe Haven Act moves to address the methods of desperation that may leave a baby in a bathroom, or garbage, or a box along the sidewalk, choices that may be a result of depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

€There is a sense of being overwhelmed. While the idea is inconceivable to most, this tragedy of leaving your child usually happens under dire situations where often a mother is unwell, and panics,€ Catania said.

The bill looks to advocate for the safety of these children as a priority and eliminate concern and fear of adults facing charges for €abandonment€, a term in which will be replaced with the word €surrendered€ in the bill.

As for the opposition that comes from some adoption agencies, for the information that is forgone with the act, specifically the medical history of the child and the proper relinquishments of rights from the parents, Catania said he is confident that supplements will be created within the bill to handle these issues, adding, €Most if not all our colleagues have co-sponsored it. We look to have it to the council by the summer.€

Both council members agree that they do not see a surge in activity because of this law, but hope it may be the bridge of relief for someone at some point. €The effectiveness of the law remains to be seen,€ Wells said.