More publicity about a law that allows a parent to give up a newborn anonymously would not be a bad idea, some local officials agreed Wednesday as the state deals with the horrific details of a baby’s death.
A 16-year-old father faces charges in Green County after being accused of taking his infant child from her teenage mother in Albany and then shooting and killing the infant.
The baby girl, born Jan. 5, was named Harper. The father indicated to authorities that he and the mother did not want to keep Harper and considered adoption or turning her in at a fire station.
The Wisconsin law is often called the safe haven law. It allows parents of infants who are less than 72 hours old to leave the child anonymously with any EMT, hospital employee or at any fire or police station, without fear of criminal or civil prosecution.
“Too bad these kids didn’t realize that all they had do is give the infant up, no questions asked,” said Cmdr. Jude Maurer of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
Maurer was not aware of any infants being surrendered to sheriff’s deputies since the law went into effect in 2001.
Maurer said he doesn’t know the details of the Albany case or whether knowledge of the law could have helped, but he said it wouldn’t hurt if Wisconsin’s no-fault infant drop-off law was better known.
“Unfortunately, it takes an incident like this for us to have these questions asked,” Maurer said.
Bob Swenarski, emergency preparedness administrator at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, noted that any internet search would turn up information about the safe haven law and agencies waiting to help.
Even so, “The more we could get information like this out, the better. Until something happens, nobody talks about it,” Swenarski said.
Swenarski said the hospital has not dealt with any babies being dropped off since it opened 10 years ago.
The availability of the program is discussed with new parents, said hospital spokeswoman Erica Mathis.
When asked for similar information about its Janesville hospital, Mercyhealth sent a statement saying it complies with the safe haven law and has “protocols in place to accept an infant if and when the time comes. If someone is unable to care for their infant, we encourage parents to always seek help or bring the baby to a local hospital, police or EMS.”
Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan of the Janesville police said he was not aware of any safe haven drop-offs with Janesville officers. He said officers are trained about the safe haven law, but he hasn’t noticed any pamphlets or posters about it in public places.
“It doesn’t seem to be widely known. … It would be a good thing if we got it out there more,” Sheridan said.
A sign on the entrance to the emergency room at St. Mary’s-Janesville calls attention to the place offering “safe haven,” but it doesn’t spell out that the hospital is ready to accept infants under the law.
Several states have gone so far as to authorize baby drop-off boxes, much like a night depository, at hospitals.
“Regardless of how the baby is surrendered at the hospital, police or fire department, its safety is of the utmost importance,” Swenarski said when asked if drop boxes might help. “All these agencies have teams ready to accommodate should a baby be brought in, whether it’s through a door or another medium, like the baby box.”
Wisconsin’s law does not require the parent to give a name or address unless the baby has been harmed, the parent is being forced to give up the baby or the baby is more than 3 days old.