A Wichita coalition wants to help parents understand Kansas' safe haven laws and know where they can surrender their newborn infants.
Under a 2013 Kansas law, the newborn protection act lets parents or other people with lawful custody to surrender children anonymously to employees at fire stations, city or county health departments or other medical facilities, as long as the child does not show signs of abuse or neglect and is under 60 days old. The children must be handed to an employee and not left unattended.
To help parents know where they can surrender a child, the Wichita Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention is in the middle of a campaign to provide and install free signs at facilities designated under the law. Co-chair Cindy Miles said the coalition has raised $2,000 to purchase 53 signs. All police and fire stations in the county have received signs, and the coalition is still installing signs at a few remaining area medical facilities.
"This law has been around for a number of years," Wichita police Capt. Travis Rakestraw said. "We just feel we need to put some energy into it and get it back out into the public view. We want to make sure that people know that it's out there, what it actually states, and where parents can go for a resource to drop off a child."
Rakestraw said there had been zero surrenders over the past three years he had been a supervisor at the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, but that "historically, there have probably been one or two cases."
"If you look across the country, the spirit of this law is to prevent incidents from happening," Rakestraw said. "If we can prevent even one, it’s worth it."
Eventually, the goal is to raise enough funds to install signs beyond Sedgwick County.
The signs are not be confused with Safe Place signs, although a location may have both signs. Safe Place signs point out places where children and teenagers can go to find or wait for help. These are located at government and business locations.
"They're two different initiatives," Miles said. "You wouldn't drop a baby off at a QuikTrip."
All fifty states have similar laws. Miles said Kansas recently amended the law to extend the age cutoff for babies to 60 days, but other states allow parents to surrender babies up to 1 year old, so she hopes the coalition can advocate for a similar extension in Kansas.
As it stands, Rakestraw said government employees follow the 60-day cut off loosely and will take custody of most surrendered children who are that age. For children who are obviously older than that, those situations will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The Kansas Children's Service League also operates a 1-800-CHILDREN phone number that connects parents to resources, makes referrals and answers questions about the safe haven law.
The coalition is trying to raise funds to provide brochures with safe haven information to new parents at hospitals in the area. Donations can be made to the Wichita Coalition for Child Abuse and sent to Nonprofit Chamber of Service, PO Box 636, Wichita KS, 67201.