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California newborn 'safe surrender' program barely being funded, audit reveals

.- The California state government is no longer funding public awareness efforts for a state program that allows people legally and anonymously to leave newborn infants at “safe surrender” locations.

According to the California Catholic Daily, California’s “safe surrender” program allows anyone with legal custody of an infant three days old or younger to leave the baby at a hospital, fire station, or other designated location.  The program was approved in 2000 after a series of high-profile incidents in which parents or other adults abandoned newborns to die.

Since the safe surrender program went into effect in January 2001, statewide 218 babies have been left at designated locations.  According to a state auditor’s report released on April 29, the program “is not as effective as it might be.”  In Los Angeles County since 2001, 57 babies have been abandoned, 45 of whom died.

Through December 2003 the state government spent $1.8 million to educate the public about the program.  The initial campaign consisted of public service announcements broadcast in the state’s five largest radio and television markets.  California Social Services has not attempted to secure more funding since 2002, saying further outreach was unnecessary.

Auditors say that no further state money has been spent on the program.  Governor Gray Davis vetoed a bill to fund an awareness campaign because its funding would have surpassed budget requirements.  Davis’ successor, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed another bill because it extended the time period for babies to be surrendered to seven days.

California Social Services’ obligation to oversee the program ended in 2006, after which the state’s counties have been left to promote and oversee the program.  According to the auditor’s report, Los Angeles County has committed the most resources to the safe surrender program.  The county has developed middle and high school courses to inform students about the program and requires government employees to receive fact sheets about it. 

Though the county spent $500,000 on the safe surrender program in its first four years, recently it has spent only $15,000 per year.  According to the California Catholic Daily, the county at present has no money for the program, relying upon free public service announcements on local cable television stations.

Debbe Magnusen, founder of Project Cuddle, a private Orange County program that has saved 631 babies since 1996, told the Los Angeles Times that the state’s neglect of the safe surrender program is “gut-wrenching.”

“I think the state can do so much more if they collaborate with private groups," she said.


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