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First signs unveiled in Auburn for Safe Place for Newborns program
In 2000, two retired nurses found a newborn on a sidewalk in Seattle, wrapped in a flannel shirt.
The nurses decided that something needed to be done about the problem of abandoned infants, and that they would do it.
So they spent a couple of years going back and forth to Olympia, and in 2007 helped get a bill passed creating the "Safe Place for Newborns" program. It says that a person can take the baby – no name, no shame, no blame – within 72 hours to a hospital emergency room, a police and fire station, and now a federally designated rural health clinic and give that baby to an employee or volunteer.
Local and state officials, including the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Claudia Kauffman, unveiled the first signs for the “Safe Place for Newborns” program Wednesday at Valley Regional Fire Authority Station 32 in south Auburn.
More than 4,000 of the signs soon will be posted at fire stations and health care facilities across the state, thanks to a partnership between the Washington Fire Chiefs, Safe Place for Newborns of Washington and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.
"The reason for this is twofold," said Mike Brown, executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs. "For one, this is our first station to be properly signed with the Safe Place. Our goal is if there is anybody that is even considering abandoning an infant, that they have safe place to do it, and we want that to be the fire stations across the state of Washington. Our goal is to have the signage up by the end of 2011 on all 4,000 fire stations that participate in the Safe Place program."
"Our Safe Place is basically the educational arm of the new law," said Michelle Walsh, a board member of the organization Safe Place for Newborns of Washington. "We're trying to get the word out that we just want to help you save your baby and to improve the life of the mothers."
Kauffman added: "There's been a long history of work in this area … and I'm proud to say that we have been able to move these things forward, not only with local stations but also with funding."
In 2007, Washington Fire Chiefs and Safe Place for Newborns of Washington joined Kauffman to help pass legislation making it legal to leave an unharmed newborn baby up to three days old at any hospital or staffed fire station. Lawmakers passed an amendment in 2009 to expand the locations to include rural health care facilities as a “Safe Place” and specified signage to be placed on all facilities accepting relinquished babies. Funding for signs was not included in the legislation, so the two organizations committed to the task of finding donations to cover the $28,000 cost.
In April of this year, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe Charitable Fund provided a grant of $10,000 toward providing signage.
The Newborn Safety Act states that a newborn may be relinquished up to 72-hours old to any hospital emergency room employee or volunteer, fully staffed fire station and/or federally designated rural health clinic. The parent need give no names, and no criminal charges will be brought against the parent or the person in the designated facility that accepts the newborn.
"Unfortunately, this happens way too often," Walsh said. "We know for certain there have been 11 babies saved under this law in Washington State. Statistics say that we lose between 100 and 250 babies a year across the state. Most of the time they are never found, and those that are found most of the time are not living."