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Avoiding tragedies, saving lives: Councilmembers seek to increase awareness on safely surrendering newborns

Summary

Motion calls for creation of task force to examine options on protecting infants

Story

The tragedy of child abandonment was highlighted last month when the body of a newborn girl was found in a blanket near North Bend. King County Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert want King County to become a leader in preventing abandonment by increasing awareness of the options available to safely surrender newborns.

“This tragic incident demonstrates there is still work to be done to make sure people are aware of safe alternatives to surrender newborns,” said Councilmember Dunn, lead sponsor of the Motion. “I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the task force so we can begin work to increase awareness of the Safety of Newborn Children Law in King County.”

On Feb. 12, a walker discovered the body of a girl in a wooded area in North Bend. Authorities named the newborn Kimball Doe because the body was found near Kimball Creek Bridge. Kimball’s fate may have been averted if her parents had taken advantage of a state law that provides an alternative to abandonment that has been in effect since 2002.

In Washington state, parents can leave newborns with qualified individuals at hospitals, fire stations or federally designated rural health clinics. The Safety of Newborn Children Law allows parents to do this anonymously up to 72 hours after the birth of a child without fear of prosecution for abandonment.

“The recent incident where a newborn baby was left to die by the side of the road shows that we have much work to do to make citizens aware of other alternatives,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “A frightened new mother should not feel like her only option is abandonment. This legislation is the right thing to do and I support it wholeheartedly.”

Councilmembers Dunn and Lambert are introducing a motion calling on the County Executive to create a task force to examine ways of increasing awareness of the safe surrender alternative for parents.

"We should do everything we can to avoid similar tragedies by educating new mothers about all of their options with their newborns," said Sheriff John Urquhart.  "I commend Councilmembers Dunn and Lambert on their work on this important issue.”

The task force would consist of representatives from the Executive and Council, local cities, health care institutions, public health, the criminal justice system, human service agencies, and first responders.

The motion calls for the task force to be in place by April 30 and to provide the Council and the Executive recommendations that include:

  • How the County can engage in a collaborative campaign on educating service providers and the public about safe surrender of newborns;
  • Ways to work with the state to obtain useful, timely data on instances of safe surrender and newborn abandonment;
  • Examining whether the program should expand through state legislation the locations where newborns can be accepted.

The proposed motion calls on the task force to present its report to the Council by October 30, 2014.

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