I found myself pondering this today. I’ve seen plenty of old movies, and read old books, that use the image of a baby left at the door of an orphanage, with a note pinned to the blanket, saying “Please take good care of my baby, I cannot provide for him” or something along those lines.
This doesn’t happen these days, and rightfully so. However, this did get me thinking about what would happen if a person felt the need to relinquish a child. Every modern adoption scenario I can think of involves the future mother working with an adoption agency ahead of time (and again, I’ll add that I think this is a good and proper thing).
But legally, what are the options if a mother was in delivery and decided right then and there that she wanted to put the child up for adoption? Can she hand the child over to the hospital, sign some papers, and be on her merry way? What if she went home with the child and came back a week later, saying “It’s clear to me now that I can’t provide for this child, so I’d like to explore the adoption route.”
I’m not asking if that is a moral or ethical thing to do, and I don’t have a child that I’m looking to get rid of, if anyone is concerned. I am really thinking about this in a literary way – how would that Depression-era story of the baby in a basket play out in the current day?
Nearly every state (what I read was 47, but it could be more now) have “Baby Safe Haven” laws where an newborn child can be left at a hospital or fire station with no questions asked, no need to give a name. As long as the child hasn’t been abused, you can just walk away. This is only for newborns, however. I’m sure with older babies you can surrender them to social services if you don’t want or are unable to care for them, but not confidentially. The law is primarily to prevent mothers from dumping their babies in dumpsters or killing them right after birth, to hide the fact they were pregnant.
Joey - I think boot camp is probably your best alternative.
Upon further research, I found that Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont are the only states without some sort of Safe Haven law. The laws vary from state to state, with North Dakota allowing you to leave your child up to 1 year of age. Most states are anywhere from 3 days to 1 month.
Even before the "safe haven " laws, in New York (and probably most other states), a woman could tell simply tell a hospital staff that she wanted to put the baby up for adoption at the time of delivery. It wasn’t quite as simple as signing some papers and going on your merry way- the hospital would call CPS , which would then arrange for the voluntary surrender. Something close to “the baby-in-a-basket” scenario still happened sometimes. The mother would leave the baby at the hospital , and then disappear- she gave a phony address to the hospital. Or the baby got left on the steps of a rectory , or in an ER waiting room. In those cases, the parental rights were eventually terminated on the grounds of abandonment, and the baby was freed for adoption. That way took a minimum of six months, while a voluntary surrender in court could be completed in a week or two.
I think people have trouble grasping is the fact until VERY recently records were very poorly kept. It was very easy to run yourself into debt, move and start over in life. You could do the same thing with a baby or abandoning your family.
My mother came from overseas and was giving an American Name in 1946. She had the driver’s license in her that name. But after my dad died in 1976 she changed it back. Changing both the last and first name by simply going to the driver’s license department and saying she wanted it under her old name. They changed it without any documents.
She then called social security and changed it. Again no documents needed.
I recall being amazed at how easily it was done.
And think back until after WWI immigration was still in full swing. Many families came over here with kids and the parents died of common illnesses like TB and the kids having no parents or relatives over here to care for them were tossed into orphanages or occasionally work factories if over 12.
I have been made aware of cases where parents were so desperate to get long term mental health services for their children that they abandon them at the hospital and refuse to accept responsibility. The parents will have to admit in court that they are guilty of child abandonment and will have their parental rights stripped, but other than that, there is not much consequences (the state will threaten to take their other kids into care, but I have never heard of this happening). The child then becomes a ward of the state and recieves mental health services till he graduates from High School. And yes, sometimes the child eventually does end up being placed in the adoption unit of CPS.
I’ve always been horrified with this solution. Despite the good intentions of many angry parents, it is a simple fact that a lot of teenage children never would have chosen the life of a cobbler and spend decades in therapy working through the issues raised because of a career thrust upon them.
The ACLU supports the concept of “safe surrender”.
Some states, including New Jersey outline in great detail the regulations concerning Termination of Parental Rights.
This comprehensive site links to all states providing details on what each state requires and offers in terms of termination of parental rights and adoption law.
Both of my kids were adopted from South Korea. In both cases, the birth mothers terminated parental rights upon surrendering the babies to the agencies. Furthermore, we were told quite specifically that once the babies left South Korean airspace, they were wards of the local U.S. agency we were working with. It was not until the final Home Study visit and a recommendation for finalization of adoption- and the exciting and scary visit to the local Family Court- that each child was legally ours.
As an aside, finalization of adoption has nothing to do with becoming a citizen of the U.S.A.
Cartooniverse - Please note the winking smiley after my comment, indicating my facetiousness. I wasn’t really recommending boot camp; although I’m one of those people who believes that children need discipline, I don’t think they need to be broken.
No sweat, St.Germain. My reply was firmly tongue in cheek as well. I surely didn’t think you were advocating anything untoward there. ( “cobbler- boot camp” ?? a small pun, no more. )
From what I read, Termination of Parental rights comes way after any kind of intervention including boot camps, serious therapies and the like. The phrase also applies ( sadly, IMHO ) to the equally emotional but done for different reasons T o P R that happens when surrendering a newborn or young baby to another legal entity/guardian/adoptive family.
Giving up a child for adoption can be legally complex. Not only must a mother voluntarily relinquish her parental rights, but the father as well. Its been over 10 years since I handled any family law/adoption issues in my legal practice, but the failure to provide for the waiver of a father’s rights could have devastating effects later. Generally, if a newborn is being put up for adotion, the putative father will be given legal notice of the adoption proceedings ans given the opportunity to appear an assert his rights as a father. (Of course, if he does, he is agreeing to take responsibility for raising and supporting the child). If the mother fails to identify a father on the birth certificate, there is usually a procedure regarding publishishing notice to an unknown father, and usually providing for a lengthier response time. In addition, I recall some jurisdictions having procedures for birth mothers to change thier minds after so much time has passed, in the event they were forced to give up the child or were experiencing some other duress. So even where a mother agrees to give up a child at the time of birth, the official finalization of the adoption could take weeks, even months.
I hope to – I rejoined just a few weeks ago to look for some archived posts of mine, and I plan to re-connect, in some way, with the the SDMB community. I would like to spread the word that I’m back, and see who is still here from the “old days,” but that’s probably a tacky way to start a thread.
Well, it’s not quite as cut and dried as that all of the time. One of my friends adopted an older son from Etheopia, who in turn sexually molested another adopted child of hers. The parents called the police, who called CPS, who took the child into their custody. Seven years later, the boy is “aging out” of the system at 18, but the parents have been paying court ordered child support the entire time and their health insurance is the primary insurance on the boy, with medicaid filling in the gaps (co-pays, etc.)
Or put on the Orphan Train, something which endlessly fascinates me! I think that’s a good point about the ease of starting a “new” life.
Thanks everyone for the information, it was very helpful. I have to admit I’m slightly amused by the inclusion of the fire department as a Safe Haven location – I get the facts of the matter, that firemen are part of the larger emergency care system, but I still get a mental image of hospital=providing medical care to infants, and firemen=providing rides on the fire truck.
More seriously, it’s saddening to think about parents getting to the point of abandoning a child to the system in order to get needed health care.