There have been 131 babies surrendered under Texas’ Safe Haven or Baby Moses law since the state started tracking them in 2004, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Officials are reminding people about the law after a newborn girl was found inside a north Austin dumpster Wednesday.
The law protects parents who are unable to care for their baby that’s up to 60 days old if the infant is dropped off unharmed at a designated safe place — a hospital, freestanding emergency medical care facility, fire station or emergency medical services (EMS) station.
Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, helped pass the law nearly two decades ago and says she knows it helps save babies who may otherwise be endangered. Morrison said a family friend in Victoria adopted a baby dropped off at a San Antonio fire station a few years ago.
“I’ve had the pleasure of watching him grow up into a wonderful young man,” she said. “He’s in his teens now.”
Brad Shields, executive director of the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers, said lawmakers passed legislation to have their facilities become designated safe places in 2015. Shields said their group worked with a variety of agencies and organizations when the update happened.
“Through a collaboration of all those groups, they now have a number of outreach efforts they do on a regular basis and their advocacy efforts, including all of their websites,” he said. The work can’t stop here, he added.
“I think the number one thing that has to be done is increased education and public awareness for Texans that they have options,” he said.
At Austin Emergency Center and outside fire stations across the city, there are reminders on their windows that parents can have a legal and safe option to leave their infant with one of their employees. The Austin Emergency Center hasn’t had any cases of Safe Havens, but are equipped and ready for parents who need help.
“We make sure that the infant is medically clear, safe, healthy, breathing — that everything is going well,” Deborah Hayes, director of operations at Austin Emergency Center, said. “Then we contact CPS — Child Protective Services.”
Hayes said she wants parents to know they can seek help at their facility, which is open 24/7. Rep. Morrison said there isn’t state funding for outreach programs related to the Safe Haven law, but encourages communities to take the charge on educating people about this law.
“It’s better for communities to get the word out,” Morrison said. “If you have a state mandated program, it may go away. This way communities can do their own programs, non-profits and programs through schools.”
A spokesperson for the Austin Fire Department said they haven’t had any babies left at fire stations as part of the Safe Haven law. Numbers from DFPS show there have been 22 abandoned babies who were not surrendered under the Safe Haven law between fiscal year 2016-18.