Just the thought of an abandoned baby is enough to make your heart ache. When a newborn is found dead inside a cardboard box, complete strangers grieve.
So when Baby Rosie was laid to rest last week in a donated white dress and casket, the two dozen mourners at a public cemetery in Auburn included the two Roseville city workers who discovered her while sweeping trash at a park after the July Fourth weekend, and the detective investigating her death.
Baby Rosie is the latest reminder that these tragedies don’t have to happen. California, like all states, has a “safe surrender” law that allows parents who are unable or unwilling to care for newborns to give them up within 72 hours of birth. As long as the baby has not been abused or neglected, parents aren’t prosecuted for child abandonment. While they are asked to fill out a medical questionnaire, they can remain anonymous.
All 58 counties have surrender sites, including hospitals and many fire stations. If the parents don’t reclaim their baby within 14 days, the infant is put in foster care or made available for adoption.
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From January 2001, when the law took effect, through March of this year, 503 newborns were safely surrendered in California, according to state figures. During that time, 40 babies were safely surrendered in San Joaquin County, 12 in Stanislaus County and three in Merced County. Two babies were surrendered in Madera County. The foothill counties of Mariposa, Tuolumne and Calaveras had no babies surrendered.
Too often, unwanted newborns are found dead. Clearly, the word isn’t getting out to all the parents who are in crisis. And some counties seem to be doing a better job than others in letting residents, especially young women, know about the program.
Public awareness efforts were more aggressive early on, though in 2010 the state launched a toll-free hotline and put a voluntary donation on income tax forms to fund outreach. Anything more that social service agencies, nonprofits and churches can do to raise awareness could help save lives.