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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

After 20 Years, LA County’s Safe Surrender Program Is Saving More Children’s Lives

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Nabe was at Cerritos Regional Park a few years ago when a 9-year-old boy approached him, wrapped his arms around his leg and said he was “number 39.”

Since Nabe launched the County Safe Surrender Program in 2002, allowing parents or legal guardians to hand over newborn babies to hospitals or fire stations without the threat of arrest for abandoning the child, he has interviewed dozens of young people. Key, whose life was saved through the program.

He still admits that whenever he meets a surrendered child, he gets emotional.

“I cried,” Nabe said in a recent phone interview. “He can be hit or thrown. … Those kids touched my life.”

Since Los Angeles County officials adopted the Safe Surrender Program in 2002, the number of abandoned infants has declined while the number of children surrendered has increased significantly. Officials say the program is effective in providing a life-saving option for mothers who would otherwise abandon their newborns.

Retired LA County Supervisor Don Nabe introduced the Safely Surrender Baby law and it was signed into state law in 2006. The law gives parents three days or less with an employee at a Los Angeles County hospital or fire station to surrender a child. , Nabe in front of a safe surrender sign at a fire station in Cerritos on Thursday, January 13, 2022. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

In 2000, California passed Senate Bill 1368, also known as the “Safe Haven” law, which reduced the act of newborn abandonment, allowing parents who would otherwise take their infants to public bathrooms, Park or garbage dumpsters will leave to hand over to firefighters. station.

The Nabe came to know about the law after hearing the news of a child being thrown in the dustbin. The boy survived. But when Nabe reached out to various county departments about the baby-surrender law, no one found out about it.

It was 2001 and not a single child was safely abandoned in Los Angeles County that year. According to data provided by county officials, 14 newborns were abandoned in public places, but only three of them survived.

In 2002, Nabe put forward a proposal, which was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, to designate fire stations as surrender sites.

The goal of the program, Nabe said, was to make moms aware of their options so “they don’t have to think about throwing a baby.”

This program helped women or other legal guardians to surrender newborn babies up to 3 days old without question. The law also allowed a period of 14 days for parents to retrieve their surrendered infants.

“I can’t imagine being so desperate that I didn’t have a friend or family member or someone I could talk to about this instead of deciding to throw my baby away,” Nabe said. “That’s the big deal.”

After 20 Years, LA County's Safe Surrender Program Is Saving More Children's Lives

Between 2001 and 2019, 189 newborns have been safely abandoned at county-determined sites, and 140 of them have been adopted. In 2020, 16 children had safely surrendered and in 2021, 17 children were handed over, according to numbers provided by a county representative.

Since 2001, 82 infants have been abandoned in Los Angeles County; According to a report prepared by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, 22 of these children survived and 60 were found dead.

While it has been difficult to find compelling data about mothers who leave their babies at designated sites, numbers collected by LA County portray women who are often in despair, in need of financial and other support. There is a shortage.

The county report also shows that mothers who surrendered or abandoned their infants generally did not fit the expected stereotype profile of a young, unmarried teenager.

In fact, the women who used the program in the past 20 years ranged in age from 15 to 47. They came from different socio-economic conditions, reporting patterns of substance abuse, lack of financial resources and housing. The report said that some of them tried to hide their pregnancies for fear of their families’ reactions.

In one instance, a woman in her 20s surrendered her child after disclosing that she was in a relationship with a man who supported her financially but did not want to care for the child. Many women said that their pregnancies were unplanned or the result of sexual assault.

Officials said unstable housing and living conditions have been a common reason for infant surrender in recent years.

In 2018, at least five out of 15 mothers who had safely surrendered their newborns were told they were away from home. The following year, in eight cases, financial hardship and limited economic ability to care for the child were cited as the main reasons for surrender. In 2020 and 2021, four to six of the 16 children who surrender were cited as homeless, officials said.

Officials said most of the children who were abandoned and surrendered come from areas of low socioeconomic status.

Surrender children who have reached college age are also eligible for scholarships through the Don Nabe Safe Surrender Scholarship Fund administered through the Long Beach Community Foundation.

But the scholarship, Nabe said, often remains unutilized because parents choose not to tell their children about their adoption.

“Some parents never tell their children that they have surrendered safely and that it is their right,” Nabe said. “That’s how we protect everyone.”

After 20 Years, LA County's Safe Surrender Program Is Saving More Children's Lives
LR The Birdwell family, Tanner 12, Olivia 14, Adriana, 13, and mom, Jill Birdwell, at their home in Long Beach on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. Adriana is one of approximately 190 children who have been safely surrendered as infants in Los Angeles. Since 2001, Los Angeles County has launched the Safely Surrounded and Abandoned Infants Program. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Jill Birdwell received a call from an adoption agency in 2009 and was given 15 minutes to decide whether she wanted to adopt a baby girl.

Birdwell called her husband, instructed him to prepare the baby clothes, and went to the hospital.

When she arrived to pick up newborn Adriana, 53-year-old Birdwell learned she was a child with a safe dedication.

The moment he laid his eyes on the girl, Birdwell said, he loved her and knew she was his. After two weeks passed and no one came forward to claim Adriana, Birdwell said she “heaved a sigh of relief that no one was going to pick her up.”

When Adriana was 3 years old, Birdwell was driving her and Olivia, another adopted daughter, when the girls suddenly asked her when they came out of her stomach.

“I said: ‘Adriana, this nice lady wasn’t in a good place and didn’t have a job, so dad and I fought for you and dad and I went to court and made sure you’re a part of our family because I wanted that Time couldn’t have kids,” she said.

Birdwell, who now lives in Long Beach with her family, later learned that Adriana’s mother was living across the street when she was 20 and came to the hospital in full labor. He took care of Adriana in her room for two days. When the mother was discharged, she contacted social services at the hospital and surrendered her daughter.

“I pray for him constantly,” Birdwell said. “I thank God she did the right thing since she was 20, living on the street.”

Birdwell said it’s important to make sure people know about the program, especially those who are in the country illegally and don’t speak English.

“How do we explain to them that if they leave this child they will not be deported?” he said. “I would stand on top of the hill and shout with my loudest voice: ‘Please don’t do this.’ ,

Birdwell said women need to be aware that “there is a mother and a father out there who will give their right hand or give their left leg and move mountains for a child.”

One of the main goals of the program, Nabe said, is to make sure women are aware of options that could potentially save a child’s life.

These days “you rarely hear of a child being thrown away,” he said. “It’s been a success. Lives are saved.”

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