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Column: If pregnant, there are options

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Barbara J. Vigil/CYFD

Much attention has been focused on the heart-wrenching incident in Hobbs in which an infant was abandoned in a dumpster over the weekend.

While many of us expressed a collective sigh of relief to learn that the baby was saved from harm by observant and caring citizens, the situation has raised many questions about legal options for a parent to safely surrender an infant or newborn.

This moment is an appropriate time to highlight the provisions of the New Mexico Safe Haven Act, in contrast to the criminal implications and penalties associated with laws relating to the abandonment and abuse of a child.

Our intent is to raise awareness about options for anyone who has recently given birth and feels a sense of desperation and inability to care for the child. It is important for a person in this situation to realize there are safe options that protect the wellbeing of the baby and do not have legal repercussions for the parent.

If an infant is surrendered in a safe manner, as outlined by the New Mexico Safe Haven Act, it is not considered a criminal act and the parent will not be prosecuted for abandonment or abuse.

With this in mind, it is important to review the provisions of the Safe Haven Act to ensure the public is aware of the way in which such a surrender can be safely and legally carried out. Under the Safe Haven Act:

A. A person may leave an infant with the staff of a safe haven site without being subject to criminal prosecution for abandonment or abuse if the infant was born within ninety days of being left at the safe haven site, as determined within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, and if the infant is left in a condition that would not constitute abandonment or abuse of a child pursuant to Section 30-6-1 NMSA 1978.

The definition of a safe haven site is a hospital, law enforcement agency or fire station that has staff on site at the time an infant is left.

The entity who receives the infant may ask for basic information, but those details are not required to relinquish a child.

We must recognize and acknowledge that for some parents, particularly when they give birth to a child without medical resources or the support of caring adults, the prospect of parenting is overwhelming.

For those individuals, it is imperative that they know there are safe and legal options. In fact, a parent of a child of any age who is feeling desperate and afraid or unable to safely care for a child (or children), should know that there are people who care, and resources available to help them.

The Children, Youth and Families Department urges citizens in these situations to reach out to CYFD directly at #SAFE from a cell phone or 855-333-SAFE.

The New Mexico Crisis and Access Line is another resource available to all New Mexicans 24/7 and you do not have to be in crisis to call a behavioral health professional at 855-NMCRI-SIS (855-662-7474).

Every effort we can undertake to raise awareness about this subject has the potential to save the life of a child, and we will continue to work in earnest to do so.

Barbara J. Vigil is the CYFD Secretary Designate.

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