- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) The city Department of Social Services has doubts about a program under which mothers may leave unwanted newborns anonymously at hospitals without facing criminal charges.
The Into Safe Arms program may be a good way to save lives, but it needs a statewide mandate before it will work at the local level, said Rusty Jordan, deputy director for social services in Newport News.
State law requires social services to investigate the abandonment of a child, even one left at a hospital, Mr. Jordan said. That includes trying to find both the mother and father, perhaps by using the police or media before an adoption goes forward.
Even if parents are immune to criminal charges, Mr. Jordan said, they still could face civil penalties such as fines and child-support payments.
But leaders of Into Safe Arms, begun last week, said they will continue to operate with support from commonwealth's attorneys in the Newport News area.
Into Safe Arms lets mothers go to emergency rooms to leave babies that are unharmed and less than 2 days old. Parents of babies who show signs of abuse or neglect can face criminal charges.
Several hospitals in the Newport News area have signed on, and many commonwealth's attorneys in the area have agreed not to criminally prosecute mothers who leave babies in their jurisdictions.
Supporters say the program works because women can remain anonymous, which isn't the case if they go through social services. The goal is to keep mothers from leaving babies in trash bins or toilets, and Mr. Jordan's position could damage the effort, said Barbara Yost, director of birthing and family health services at Riverside Hospital.
"I'm worried that he's going to negate everything we're trying to do," Miss Yost said.
More than 40 states have passed laws that protect mothers who bring newborns to hospitals.

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