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After almost a decade, Mississippi “safe haven” legalized child abandonment scheme still fails

(Justin Lewis, WTVA)

Photo: Justin Lewis, WTVA

Yesterday evening around 6pm, a recently born Hispanic baby boy was discovered, wrapped in a blanket and latched into a car seat left off at the Houston, Mississippi Salvation Army donations area.

Abandoned newborn found in Houston (see video in right sidebar)

Most things left at the back of the Salvation Army are used TVs, old VHS tapes, or unused clothing, but on Tuesday evening someone dropped off an unfortunate first.

“When I came into work today I didn’t expect to hear that a baby was left here where we receive our donations at,” says Anita Boyd of the Salvation Army. “I was pretty much in shock.”

As the boy was found with what may have been after birth still on him, this was, shall we say, most likely not a hospital birth:

Authorities say the baby found right here was in good warm condition, but signs showed it couldn’t have be more than a couple of days old.

“It still had after birth on it,” says Deputy Adam Harmon of the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department.

“There was blood up under the neck and ear canal. The hair was matted just a little bit with maybe some afterbirth, so the baby hadn’t been cleaned up real well.”

(Houston is in the in Northeastern portion of the state, about a two and a half hour drive Southeast of Memphis, TN and roughly a 3 hour drive west of Birmingham, AL.)

Houston, MS (38851) map from a distance

The child’s parents are currently being sought by local authorities.

As the boy was not legally abandoned through the “safe haven” program, whoever left him will not have an affirmative defense against charges of abandonment.

Houston Town Marshal Billy Voyles said,

while newborns can be legally dropped off at local police departments, fire departments or hospitals, it is illegal to abandon any child.“This is a felony and we are working this case hard to find out who did this,” said Voyles. “If anyone has any information about this case or knows of someone who might have had this baby, we are asking them to call 911.”

Voyles said the situation could have turned out different.

“It was cold last night” said Voyles. “If that baby had been left out and we found him this morning, things could have been a lot different.”

No other mention of the mother, let alone her health, after potentially secretly giving birth is made.

Women, and mothers to the legalized abandonment schemes, represent little more than a set of rights to be terminated before an adoption could be processed.

Mississippi was one of the early set of states to jump on the legalized child abandonment bandwagon, its “safe haven” scheme being signed into law back in 2001., under then Governor George W. Bush, was the first state to legalize child abandonment in 1999. With a single stroke of his pen, he undid generations work and developments in social welfare and “best practices,” magically transforming child abandonment from something to be avoided and a social scourge to be worked against, into an act that was now not merely legalized with the state’s blessing, but something to be “educated” about how to go about doing in the best possible way!

Social policy that was all but unthinkable just a mere 11 years ago has become American social policy in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the blink of an eye.

We have become the United States of Child Abandonment.

The laws were often rushed through after a sudden “rash” of child abandonment cases, accompanied with much ‘but if you don’t pass the legislation MORE children will DIE! histrionics, always portraying the alternative to legalizing child abandonment as WORSE and the baby dump schemes as a panacea that would make child abandonment just go away.

When child abandonments didn’t stop after the legislation passed, dump law advocates changed their song to just needing “more money to educate” about the laws, while of course, providing positions, organizations, and access to public school captive audiences for them and their buddies.

Despite the efforts of many child welfare individuals and organizations, as well as the efforts of many adoptees themselves, these laws were rammed through in this field where statistics are all but impossible to come by*.

Which is why it continues to be important, now almost ten years after the fact to come back and carefully assess the mess such efforts have left in their wake.

Mississippi’s version of the law has always been a bit more telltale than your average legalized child abandonment scheme in that adoption agencies were  added right alongside hospitals as baby intake points.

The Mississippi baby dump law allows anyone to leave a kid up to three days old with EMS providers, or an employee at  hospitals that operate an ER, or adoption agencies licensed by the Department of Human Services (thereby perhaps cutting out the middle man? Because let’s face it, the dump laws not only have their origins in the adoption industry, but are ultimately about increasing the supply of newborns available to the adoption process.)

Now after almost a decade of legalized child abandonment in Mississippi, kids are still being abandoned, just well outside the “safe haven” program.

Some found alive and well cared for like the Houston baby, but others of them, like this boy found dead earlier this summer Sheriff: Baby Found In Suitcase Was Born Alive At Home. Be sure to see the video that goes with the piece as in it we hear the all too common refrain, would-be-adopters are practically lined up around the block waiting for a kid, when an abandoned kid ends up dead, they’re portrayed as the ones being deprived.

Child abandonment in other parts of the world is understood to be tangled up in a knot of social and psychological issues:

  • poverty
  • immigration and fear of deportation
  • domestic violence
  • underage parenting
  • already parenting multiple children
  • cultural and individual shame
  • desperation
  • fear of rejection
  • dissociation

to name just a few.


These are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Here in America, child abandonment  is treated as a form of false binary

  • either one uses the legalized child abandonment programs (which strip parental rights and in many cases the child’s identity) but it affords the “affirmative defense” against prosecution (though prosecutions in some jurisdictions are still certainly possible)
  • or they abandon outside the program and are instantly branded criminals and potential murderesses (or murders)

No acknowledgement of the complexities involved or the societal infrastructures or mental health services necessary to support these families is made.

If one has come to the point of abandoning a child, it’s either avail yourself of the legalized abandonment system (and) or criminal charges, your “choice”.

Neither of which even begin to address the root issues that drove said person or persons to the act of child abandonment. anything, all too often the baby dump schemes become nothing more than a “new and improved” means by which to heap condemnation upon those who abandon outside the program. They are chided “You could have used the program we set up for you, there’s simply no excuse! Shame on you!”

It remains to be empirically documented, but there is a genuine possibility that some of these women (as it’s primarily women being punished) are actually receiving harsher penalties now that the dump laws have passed than they did prior, as the courts feel the dump laws were created as some kind of “pressure valve” and when those who abandon “choose” not to use them they are deemed all the more ‘guilty!’

There is of course, that a third or middle way, which would require effort and resources, wherein child abandonment would not be legalized by the state, but structural and genuine support could be given.

American society recognizes other extra legal acts more as “cries for help” or circumstances under which services rather than jail time are warranted. But child abandonment remains this all or nothing binary of a “non-bureaucratic placement” entry into the adoption system via the “safe haven/baby Moses laws” or a one way ticket to jail. that’s because this is viewed not merely as a women’s crime, but of the very act of women negating “women’s essentialist nature.” After all, what could be a greater crime in a hypernatalist culture such as modern day America than a woman perceived to be rejecting her “maternal instincts?”

It doesn’t matter that the perception is so often completely at odds with the details of the realities women who abandon face.

The United States has legalized child abandonment in just over a decade.

It helps the self congratulatory moralizers (who could !NEVER even imagine! abandoning a child themselves) sleep at night, having sorted the child abandoners who they still view as potential murderesses, but who “chose not to murder today” apart from the ‘monsters’ who they get so worked up about.

Of course, to their minds, there’s no such thing as a “good” child abandoner, (not even the ones who use their hideous program,) there are merely “murderesses” and those who provide an adoption “silver lining” to other “waiting couples.”

The only real answer is of course, far more complicated.

Repealing and fully dismantling the legalized child abandonment schemes and treating child abandonment with the attention it deserves. That means providing acknowledgement that  no matter how hard ‘we’ try, child abandonment is simply not something ‘we’ will ever be able to control. There will always be some number of child abandonments.

But what is under ‘our’ control are two things,

  • how we treat and work with those who have resorted to such
  • and what little ‘preventative care’ that actually can make a difference: fighting poverty, ensuring immigrants are not marginalized particularly in access to health care, working against domestic violence, ensuring access to mental health care and other support structures such as childcare, etc.

Those absolutely set upon abandoning, obviously will. How society treats them after the fact matters very deeply.

But there are other child abandonments that may well be preventable.

From what we do know about those who abandon, when we actually take the time to listen, we learn that sometimes it’s the “small” but important things, things like consistent, high quality, low cost or free child care, genuine protection from those who physically abuse, or simply knowing at the end of the month that there will be enough can make all the difference.

Creating those structural changes is non-trivial.

Of course that would mean rolling up one’s sleeves and actually getting to work, rather than throwing some piece of  “sav-a-baybee” legislation at the problem and them jailing anyone who falls outside the “appropriate way” to abandon a baby.

And to date, the American track record on that ain’t so hot.

*we’ll see what I can get written for tomorrow

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