Research on the discarded infant population islimited. States are required to submit data to DHHS on the number of children who enter foster care due to abandonment. However, there is no record of national statistics on the number of infants discardedin public places (e.g., dumpsters, trash bins, alleys, warehouses, bathrooms) (DHHS, 2001). Currently, data on the number of discarded babies is difficult to estimate given that prevalence figures are determined through the use of media reports rather than official records. The DHHS (2001) study used newspaper reports from the Lexis-Nexis database to estimate the number of discarded infants. In 1992, there were 65 reported discarded babies. In 1997, 105 were reported, representing a 62% increase. Of the total number of discarded infants in 1997, 33 were found dead, compared to eight in 1992. These differences, however, may not be indicative of actual increases in incidence but rather the result ofincreases in media reporting. A recent North Carolina study of neonaticide found 34 newborns who were killed or discarded by a parent within a 16-year period, 1985-2000 (Herman-Giddens, Smith, Mittal, Carlson, & Butts, 2003). This represents 0.002% of all live births in North Carolina during this time.
Virtually every case of infant abandonment signals that the health care and social service system has failed a woman and her baby, for surely a well-functioning system would enable a woman either to prevent unwanted pregnancy, to end it safely and early, or, if she decided to carry to term, either to keep her child or to place it, again safely and swiftly, for adoption.
It is also important to ensure that the bills do not present an overly simplistic, or even misguided, approach to a deeply sensitive and complex issue. At stake in the safe surrender context are the due process rights of the surrendering parent, the parental rights of both parents, and the rights of the surrendered infant. The safe surrender laws exist among myriad other state laws affecting these rights. In a comparative analysis of many of the safe surrender laws enacted to date, we have found tremendous variation in how comprehensively the laws address the intricacies of the rights and issues implicated.
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