FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 30, 2004) – Typically, newborns aren’t among the hundreds of children waiting for permanent homes as part of the state’s public adoption services.
The 2-year-old law that allows parents to anonymously place infants that they cannot care for at selected "safe havens" has resulted in seven incidents of babies getting a second chance with caring families through safe abandonment.
The Thomas J. Burch Safe Infants Act, enacted in April 2002, made it legal for parents and others acting on their behalf, to leave a baby up to 72 hours old at any hospital, with emergency medical service (EMS) personnel or with any firefighter or police officer. Parents remain anonymous and cannot be pursued or prosecuted unless an abandoned infant shows signs of abuse or neglect.
Lisa Durbin of the Division of Protection and Permanency in the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services said November – Adoption Awareness Month – is a good time to remind Kentuckians of the law.
"We want to increase awareness of this law in Kentucky," Durbin said. "Women in crisis or who may have hidden a pregnancy can ensure their baby will be safe with this law."
After examination and necessary medical treatment at a hospital, babies are placed in specially prepared foster homes by the cabinet, beginning the adoption process.
Supporters of the law intended it to eliminate incidents of newborns being left unsafely outdoors or in trash cans, restrooms or other public places.
But "all but one abandonment occurred in hospitals just after delivery," Durbin said.
At the safe drop-off points, parents are given an information packet that includes coded bracelets for parent and baby and voluntary medical disclosure forms that can be left with the baby or returned by mail. The information helps caregivers determine treatment for the baby and is kept confidential.
Durbin said the parents’ medical history is important in determining the future needs of the child.
The packet also includes a brochure teaching mothers how to care for themselves after delivery.
Parents have 30 days to reconsider leaving their baby. After this time has passed, the cabinet asks the courts to terminate parental rights, freeing the baby for adoption.
In five of the seven incidents, the children have been adopted. One planned adoption awaits a court date.
One mother came forward to reclaim her child, Durbin said, and the protection and permanency office worked with her toward reunification.
Durbin said it’s been hard getting word about the law to people – especially women who might have second thoughts about motherhood or teens who feel they have few options.
In Louisville, a nonprofit group called Secret Safe Haven for Newborns promotes the law and collaborates with hospital emergency rooms to ensure safe abandonment of newborns. The group is part of the cabinet’s Jefferson County Community Partnership for Protecting Children.
"Placing a child for adoption is a difficult choice," Durbin said. "But giving children a place where they are protected is the best thing you can do for them."
Women can plan for adoption through the cabinet even before their babies are born.
And families who want to keep their babies but fear it will be a struggle can get support and referrals to other service agencies through the cabinet.
Learn more about the Safe Infants Law online at