Rock-A-Baby Bye-Bye

A state program was supposed to give moms a safe place to drop off unwanted newborns. Then why are so many babies still ending up in the trash?

After CPS talked to the mother, she decided to keep the baby.

In Hamburg, Germany, clinics have built baby depositories into outside walls. A mother can place an infant in a heated, cushioned compartment, then walk away. An internal alarm sounds, alerting staff to the newborn, but authorities never search for the mother.

The abandoned-baby law could work -- it just needs better advertising, says DePelchin's Curtis Mooney.
Deron Neblett
The abandoned-baby law could work -- it just needs better advertising, says DePelchin's Curtis Mooney.
Maria Santana takes Jordan to visit his great-grandfather.
Deron Neblett
Maria Santana takes Jordan to visit his great-grandfather.

Morrison didn't want mothers to drop off babies like library books -- because after a solitary delivery, the mother might need medical attention herself. Plus, officials want to be able to ask the mother if she's willing to fill out a short medical history form so adoptive parents can know if the child is prone to diabetes or other diseases.

Still, the basic intent of the law is that a mother can anonymously leave her baby, know that the baby is safe, and go away. The problem is, this conflicts with both state and federal laws that require a "diligent search" for the mother and father before terminating parental rights.

"We really feel like we are obligated by law to investigate or look into these cases," says Marla Sheely, public information officer for the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. "There may be other children in the home. We've gotta ensure safety."

So, despite the fact that the law promises confidentiality, CPS continues to try to find the mothers, Sheely says. "The law doesn't change how we do business," Sheely says. "It just doesn't really impact us in any way."

Hay says that CPS has to do what's best for the child, which entails finding its family. "This law only affects [that] the mother is not going to be criminally charged," Hay says. She emphasizes that CPS investigations are confidential, not criminal. But the investigations aren't entirely confidential, because once the mother is found -- even if she has kept her pregnancy secret for nine months -- CPS asks her to identify the father and other family members the child could live with.

During the last legislative session, Morrison had several discussions with CPS officials about increasing a mother's anonymity, but she didn't have much luck. Morrison worries CPS's search deters mothers who don't want to be identified. "If the mother thinks CPS is going to come and look for her and hunt her down regardless, she's going to go back and be scared and leave the child in a Dumpster," Morrison says. "That is absolutely the scenario that we want to get rid of."

But if Morrison succeeds in securing the mother's anonymity, critics argue, then the law will eliminate the father's rights. In Michigan, 12 babies have been safely, legally abandoned, but judges have refused to allow them to be adopted because they don't believe there has been a diligent enough search for the fathers. Posting a notice in the newspaper isn't enough, judges say.

Because of CPS's successful search, the father gained custody of the first Houston-area baby legally abandoned. In December 2001, a 28-year-old Bellville woman delivered a baby girl while driving down the Katy Freeway. At 4:53 a.m. she stopped at Fire Station No. 78, where firefighters delivered the placenta and cut the cord. The baby was taken to Texas Children's Hospital, and the mother drove herself home.

"She just did the right thing," Hay said at the time. "I just applaud her so much."

Since HPD filed an incident report, where the woman gave her correct name, address and telephone number, CPS was able to contact her and speak with her parents and find the baby's father.

Her roommate at Ohio Dominican College had already left for Thanksgiving break, so 19-year-old Twyana Davis delivered her baby alone. At 1 a.m., she wrapped her daughter in a blanket and left her in a Dumpster behind her dorm. It was 30 degrees. She called campus police and watched from a window until squad cars showed up.

"I didn't want her to die," Davis says. "I just felt like I couldn't take her home."

This was six years ago, and even if the safe haven law had existed, Davis insists that she wouldn't have used it. Getting pregnant, she says, didn't fit into her life plan, and she never created a plan B. "When I delivered I was scared, I was afraid, I was panicked, I was frantic -- I didn't know what I was going to do," Davis says. "I was not in a rational state of mind to say, 'Oh, I'm going to take the baby to the hospital.' "

Davis argues that the law requires both premeditation and a presence of mind she lacked. She says mothers like her don't think ahead and formulate an abandonment plan.

Davis pleaded guilty to one charge of child endangerment and was sentenced to a year of house arrest, counseling and five years of probation. Her grandparents took custody of the baby until two years ago, when Davis was granted custody of her daughter, Danielle.

Davis has since co-founded a nonprofit organization called a Second Chance at Life, which tries to prevent abandonment. She offers parenting classes, prenatal care and lectures ninth-grade girls about making better decisions. She says if she had had someone to talk to and guide her through the pregnancy, then maybe she wouldn't have discarded her daughter.

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