Legislature strengthens safe-surrender laws for newborns, inspired by 2014 death of infant near North Bend

  • Tuesday, March 6, 2018 3:19pm
  • News

Legislation seeking to prevent newborn abandonment, inspired by a tragic incident in North Bend in 2014, has been approved by the State Legislature.

In February 2014 an infant was found in the woods outside North Bend, less than a half a mile from the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. The dead child was named Baby Kimball after the bridge near where she was found, wrapped in a blanket.

The new legislation focuses on efforts to continue raising public awareness about Washington’s Safe Surrender laws and protections for newborn babies. Sponsored by Senators Guy Palumbo, Joe Fain, and Sharon Nelson, it now goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Once adopted the bill will require the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to collect and compile information and publicly report it annually.

“This life-saving act has been on the books for more than a decade, but we know relatively little about how many abandonment incidents happen and how many could have been prevented,” said Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby. “With reliable data, and better coordination between agencies, we can make caregivers more aware of our safe surrender option.”

“Newborn babies given up by their parents for any reason deserve to be kept safe and protected during this critically important period,” said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn. “Better data and information about these situations will allow us to more effectively reach parents in crisis and ensure the right services are available and known to the public in this time of need.”

“Tragedies like what happened to Baby Kimball must never occur again,” said King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, an early advocate of the legislation. “This bill will allow us to more effectively communicate existing protections to at-risk populations. It’s good policy and it’s the right thing to do.”

“To help prevent future tragedies, especially the death of newborns, it is crucial to have current and accurate data to guide public outreach strategies,” said County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who was the prime sponsor of the original safe haven legislation in 2002 while a member of the state Legislature. “When this legislation becomes law, we will be able to continue and enhance our efforts to educate struggling new parents on their options. One of the options will be for these new parents, who are usually in their teens and unable to care for a newborn, to be able to safely surrender their child without fear of prosecution or other legal repercussions.”

Since Baby Kimball’s death, the King County Council has been actively working to examine ways to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The King County Safety of Newborn Children Task Force was then created to address how Washington State’s Safety of Newborn Children Act could be better implemented across the county.

In Washington State, parents can leave newborns with qualified individuals at hospitals, fire stations, or federally designated rural health clinics. The Safety of Newborn Children Law allows parents to do this anonymously up to 72 hours after the birth of a child without fear of prosecution for abandonment.

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