Tragic infant death raises awareness of state Safe Haven laws

When officers found an infant disposed of in a dumpster Saturday evening in Granger, it raised the question about what safer alternatives exist.

In 2000, Indiana joined 45 other states in enacting a Safe Haven law. According to the Indiana Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, a distressed parent is allowed to give up an unwanted infant safely, legally and confidentially.

“When that law went into effect we were trained in how to get in touch with child protective services,” said South Bend Fire Battalion Chief Mark Catanzarite.

Police stations, fire stations and hospital emergency rooms are all designated safe spots to hand over a child within 45 days of birth in Indiana, or, within three days of birth in Michigan. Parents, family members, friends, ministers, social workers or any responsible adult are free to do give up infant custody without risk of arrest or prosecution for abandonment.

Fire and police stations are staffed 24/7. Catanzarite said they would prefer to have any child handed over in person, pointing out the benefits of calling in to dispatch or ringing the doorbell to gain attention.

Once an infant is in official custody the first move is to contact a Dept. of Child Services worker in order to have the infant assessed and to issue any medical attention. As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby.

However, officials note that any knowledge of date of birth, medical history or child’s general health is greatly appreciated. Once the baby is examined the Indiana Dept. of Child Services will take the baby into custody through Child Protective Services where it will be entrusted to a new caregiver.

Thus far in 2013 there have been four reported cases of the Safe Haven law being enacted. Catanzarite said it is still sad, but nonetheless it’s better than the alternative.

“As a father, as a parent and a father and as a firefighter it breaks your heart to hear about an infant who is essentially left for dead in a dumpster.”

Emergency responders are familiar with unfortunate and tragic scenes, but Catanzarite notes how instances of child abandonment and death are particularly hard to handle.

“Firefighters typically are pretty compassionate people,” said Catanzarite reflecting on the recent deceased baby incident, “it turns their stomach, we see a lot of bad things but that's something that's tough to deal.”

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