Baby Abandonment: Fact Sheet
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is baby abandonment?
Child abandonment can take many different forms, and it can apply any time a child is left without appropriate supervision for extended periods of time. In the last year we have seen a national concern over a specific type of baby abandonment and that will be the focus of these FAQ. Baby abandonment for purposes of this discussion is when an infant under the age of 12 months is discarded or left alone for an extended period of time in a public/private setting with an intention to dispose of the baby.
- How prevalent is baby abandonment in the United States?
Unfortunately no one really knows. All states and/or counties are not uniformly maintaining data. The federal government does not have a formal data gathering process for this specific information.
- Why is this issue of growing national concern?
Abandoned children have always been a concern in this country and states have criminal as well as child abuse laws to address it. The growing concern seems to stem from a realization that despite the existing legal framework, babies are being abandoned, harmed and sometimes dying as a result. The State of Texas experienced an unprecedented rash of baby abandonment in 1999. 13 babies were abandoned in the first 10 months of 1999. The string of abandonments garnered significant media and political attention.
- Is baby abandonment illegal?
State laws vary, however, all states have laws that prohibit leaving a baby unprotected and unsupervised.
- What is known about the abandoned babies and the persons responsible for the abandonment?
Little is known as no research has been done that identifies the population of parents who abandon their babies. There is information about individual cases, but they are not sufficient for a sample by which to make valid conclusions.
- Why do we only hear about mothers abandoning their babies? What about the fathers?
Media and political officials have focused on mothers because most reported cases have involved the mothers. Fathers may be directly and/or indirectly involved but we have no evidence at this time.
- How have States responded to this problem?
Many States have enacted or introducing legislation that provides a process for legally abandoning a child. The intent is to give parents an avenue to safely turn over their child to a third party. Also, many private organizations have been established on a local level to address the issues surrounding baby abandonment, i.e. burial services, crisis hotlines, care for babies that have been abandoned.
- What was the first State to pass legislation?
Texas was the first State to enact legislation in September 1999.
- How many States have passed laws dealing with Baby Abandonment?
Forty-one states have passed legislation and many more are in the process.
- In general, what does the legislation entail?
The legislation varies from State to State but they all have similar elements. They provide for an affirmative defense or immunity from criminal prosecution against parents who leave their newborn infants safely in the hands of designated caregivers, as identified by the law. Some provide for anonymity, others require an attempt at establishing the identity of a parent as well as some minimal information about the baby's history.
- What happens once a baby is safe and in the hands of authorities?
That is dependent upon the laws of the State as they pertain to child abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption. For the most part however, once a baby is medically stable the state would arrange for care in a foster or adoptive home.
- Is anyone opposed to this legislation?
Yes, some individuals and organizations have expressed concern regarding the legislation. There is apprehension about the adoption process being jeopardized because of a lack of medical history, lack of legal relinquishing of parental rights, etc. There is also a concern about the law condoning irresponsible behavior by allowing parents to discard their children.
- Won't laws allowing babies to be abandoned anonymously in fact contribute to the growing numbers?
The law is meant to encourage responsible behavior by individuals not willing or able to care for their babies by assuring that the child is left safely in the hands of caretakers who can provide appropriate care.
- What are CWLA's views on this issue?
CWLA is concerned about the apparent increase of baby abandonment cases since 1991, the paucity of uniform data and the absence of a comprehensive response at the national level.
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