Monday, January 10, 2005

Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect Fatality Report

According to the 2002-2003 Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect Fatality Report (pdf), the number of child maltreatment deaths in 2000 was 38 (18 in the <1 year age group), decreasing to 31 in 2003 (15 in the <1 year age group).

Of the 31 deaths, only one [a newborn, age not specified] was as a result of abandoment. Moreover (emphasis mine):

This is the first infant found abandoned since the Into Safe Arms project was launched on the Peninsula.

I had a few questions about this Into Safe Arms project:1) is it a statewide program; 2) is it a hospital-based program, or the law of the land; 3) how many abandoned children and associated deaths per year were there in Virginia before the program started; 4) how many after?

After yet another round of call after call*, I was unable to locate a knowledgeable person. [I might try again later, time permitting.] Here's what I did find:

Social Services agencies in James City County, York-Poquoson, and the City of Williamsburg are concerned about inaccurate statements made in certain recent media coverage of a program referred to as "Into Safe Arms." The legitimate scope of the program is, according to local hospitals and prosecutors, that mothers who bring a newborn baby to a hospital to relinquish custody will not face criminal charges. The program fails to recognize, however, the legal obligations of Social Services in such cases.

If a parent leaves a child, even in a hospital, intending to never return, Virginia law considers that child to be abused and/or neglected. This will not trigger criminal prosecution if local Commonwealth's Attorneys choose not to prosecute such cases, but the law mandates that Social Services pursue any such case by filing a civil petition to obtain legal custody of the child. In that proceeding, the parent would be adjudicated as having abused and neglected the child. The parent would also be listed on the state child abuse/neglect registry. Furthermore, health care workers and other designated individuals are obligated by law to immediately report such incidents to Social Services. In fulfilling its legal role, Social Services would investigate to determine the identity of both of the child's parents, and even though the child would be taken into foster care the parents would be summoned to court multiple times to participate in foster care hearings. Any claim of the "Into Safe Arms" program that a parent in Virginia can maintain anonymity and will not have to participate in legal proceedings is, therefore, entirely untrue.

I also spoke to a nurse from one of the local hospitals who had heard of the program. She said the program has existed for about 1-2 years. So, going with the 1 year version, we have: one newborn abandoned [and one associated death]/year.

*If you'd like to investigate further, here's who I called so far:

  • Greg H. Dohrman, Assistant County Attorney (757) 253-6832 []. He didn't know anything about the program, but he gave me the following numbers:

    1) James County Dept. of Social Services (757-259-3100)--no clue, referred me to Riverside Health Communications.

    2) Child Protection Services (757-253-3201)--haven't called them yet

    3) Foster Care (757-564-2416)-- -"-

  • Riverside Health Communications (757-595-6363)--RN with practical info-participating ERs-but no statistical info. She suggested I contact Newport Social Services (757-926-6300/6161)--haven't called them yet


    At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    wow. That's awful. So there is no protection for women at all under this law. So what we're going to have is two laws, that effectively make no damn sense at all.
    And the media in Virginia that failed to report on the real truth about the ISA, will probably fail to report on this latest insanity. I really miss investigative reporting...

    Yeah, Social Security can say what it wants about the appropriate avenues for giving up a baby but people panic. They don't want their mother to know or their father to know. I'd rather have a child end up in a nurses arms than dead.

    Thanks for all the calling,


    At 1:54 AM, Blogger JoshSN said...

    The calling rocks.

    I wrote down the numbers of the people who might be relevant for one story, you are motivational.

    At 10:17 AM, Blogger amy hawkins said...

    Thank you for all of this information!

    I had recently done some extensive research on Safe Haven laws, but I didn't think to call specific offices in Virginia.

    If you're interested, promoting Virginia's Safe Haven law was what I suggested to Del. Cosgrove in my letter, but obviously it was lost in the flood.

    I hope you do more follow-up! This is a great story. And I hope you don't mind my having cited you.

    At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Virginia Code sections apply to 'safe haven for Infants". See VA Code sections:

    A parent may relinquish a newborn within 14 days of birth to a hospital that provides 24 hour emergency care or to a rescue squad that employes emergency medical technicians. Relinquishment to a safe haven is an affirmative defense to prosecution for abuse or neglect. The local department of Social Services shall have authority to take custody of the child, arrange an appropriate placement, and institute termination of parental rights proceedings.


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