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Special Report: Saving babies' lives

How the Safe Haven Law gives women facing an unplanned pregnancy another choice.
A year ago, the body of a newborn girl was found in trash can outside a Farmersville home. The mother, 25-year-old Danielle Downing was charged with the murder.

We hear this story far too often... Babies abandoned or killed just hours after their birth. 

There is a law that gives mothers another option. While the law is more than 10-years-old, its supporters say it needs more attention.

CBS47'S Evy Ramos visited with Maya Madsen and her family. Maya is a happy, bubbly, 2-year-old... and is also a "Safe Haven" baby.

Maya's birth mother legally surrendered her at a local hospital, under California's Safe Haven law, just hours after she was born. "All we knew was that she was 23, and Hispanic," said Nicole Madsen.

Matt and Nicole Madsen married seven years ago. Nicole had two boys from her previous marriage but could no longer have children naturally, so they decided they would adopt a child through Fresno County. 

The Madsen's really wanted a baby girl but were told that was unlikely but then they got the call, and 2 and half hours later, Maya was in their home. "I held her and I looked down at her, and that was it. I loved her, and she was mine," said Nicole.

Maya is one of more than 400 babies who have been safely surrendered in California since the Safe Haven law went into effect in 2001.

Tim Jaccard is responsible for the law, after working as a medical officer in New York, and seeing some horrible things. It began with the death of a newborn baby boy, drowned in a toilet by his own mother inside a courthouse. "Two weeks later, I responded to a call -- baby not breathing and I found a young baby wrapped up in a plastic bag inside of a building in Albertson. Two weeks after that, responded to a call -- baby not breathing, and I found a baby wrapped up in a plastic bag and was buried in a backyard that was unearthed by a dog. Three weeks after that, I responded to a baby not breathing and found a little baby boy wrapped up, in a recycling bin. And this was the catalyst for starting Safe Haven," said Jaccard. 

Jaccard felt the only way to stop the death of innocent newborns was to pass a bill that would allow a woman the right to relinquish her baby -- no questions asked. It was not easy. "We could not get anybody to really sponsor it," said Jaccard. 

Jaccard flew to Texas to meet with George W. Bush, who was governor at the time. "He was the only governor in the country that was willing to even entertain the thought, that a woman would be able to relinquish safely," said Jaccard.

As a result, Texas became the first state to pass the Safe Haven law. Eventually, Jaccard helped to pass Safe Haven laws in all 50 states. But there are differences in the law within each state. For instance, many states give a birth mother 30 days to relinquish her baby. Here in California, it's only three days. "California chose 72 hours. Is it a good number? It's a safe number. It categorizes the affects of neonaticide when 80 percent of the deaths that do occur, occur during that time. But 30 days again is the number that we feel is the safer number to protect the children," said Jaccard.

More than 50 fire stations throughout Fresno County along with hospitals carry the Safe Haven logo. It means each location is a safer surrender site where mothers can surrender their newborns, no questions asked. But that's not the case in other counties. California only designates hospitals as safe surrender sites, leaving it up to each county to add additional sites, such as fire stations.

Joy Cronin is Deputy Director of Child Welfare in Fresno County. Cronin says they do their best to educate people about Safe Haven but there are limited funds and resources. "I'm just happy that you're [CBS47] doing this story to really raise awareness in the community, because it really only comes up, the information about safely surrendered program, when there is a tragedy or a child is left at a fire station or hospital," said Cronin.

Even though 463 babies have been safely surrendered in California since 2001, Jaccard says 79 children have been found dead. "The more times that the actual logo is shown and seen the more that a person will remember or think what a Safe Haven is all about," said Jaccard.

The Madsen family is so grateful that Maya's birth mother was aware of the law. "I think she loved her baby enough that she wanted to give her an opportunity to be raised in a family that could take care of her," said Nicole.

When you see the smile on Maya's face -- it's clear Safe Haven saves lives. 

Click the related link if you would like more information about the Safe Have law.

There is also a national hotline - (888) 510-BABY.

Based on this story on CBS47 News, Fresno's Department of Child Welfare is exploring options with other community partners on how they might be able to assist in raising public awareness on Safe Surrender because education is the key to making it work.

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