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County Council to protect vulnerable lives

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Safety of Newborn Public Awareness Campaign

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Last winter, after a newborn baby was found in an Everett trash compacter, Metropolitan King County Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Jeanne Kohl-Welles recognized the need to act to protect the lives of newborns. Today the County Council passed legislation calling on Executive Dow Constantine to launch a public awareness campaign about the available resources and legal protections around abandoned newborns in Washington State.

“Washington State has provided for safe locations and legal protections for persons to take their newborns up to 72 hours after the birth of a child if they themselves cannot take care of them,” Council Vice Chair Dunn, prime sponsor of the legislation. “Our goal now is to share information about these laws and the existing resources to a broader audience to help prevent future tragic instances.”

The Washington State Legislature adopted in 2002, and amended in 2003, legislation known as the Safe Haven Law. The law allows any parent, often times adolescents, to leave his or her newborn baby, up to three days old, with an employee at any hospital, staffed fire station or Federally Designated rural health clinic in the state during its hours of operation.

Councilmember Kohl-Welles, then a Washington State Senator, sponsored the bill in the Senate and worked on its adoption.

“A struggling parent that is unable to care for a newborn child is already able to safely surrender that child in King County without fear of prosecution or repercussions,” said Kohl-Welles. “Today’s action will further distribute that information so parents most at-risk, such as adolescents, are made aware of this option just as they feel they have no choice left.”

In response to the body of a newborn found on the side of the road near North Bend, Washington in 2014, Dunn convened a task force that brought together a team of experts, including the organization Safe Place for Newborns of Washington, to make recommendations to the county on how to best prevent future tragedies and keep at-risk parents safe.

Today’s adopted motion calls on the County Executive to support many of the recommendations of the task force. Those recommendations included the development and implementation of a public information campaign to educate individuals of child-bearing age, service providers who may come into contact with individuals of child-bearing age, county employees and county partners about the provisions of the safe haven law. The campaign should include the places where a newborn may be safely surrendered by a parent, and a phone number that individuals may call to obtain information on where to safely surrender a newborn.

“Public Awareness is a key factor in protecting newborns and their mothers,” said Paul Cowles, Safe Place for Newborns of Washington. “Safe Place for Newborns of Washington supports this campaign and hopes it can work to prevent future tragedies by making sure at risk populations know about the legal protections and resources available.”

The Task Force made a number of recommendations which included a county wide public awareness campaign. Informing at risk parents of the protections currently provided under state law as well as resources like the Safe Place for Newborns National Resource Hotline, 1-877-440-2229, would likely increase the safety of infants and prevent child abandonment.

For more information about Safe Places for newborns or other available resources visit: http://www.safeplacefornewbornswa.org/
Contact the Council
Main phone:
206-477-1000
TTY/TDD:
206-296-1024
Fax:
206-296-0198