Thursday, January 18, 2001

Abandonment, or child abuse?

Parental punishment under debate

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Several versions of a proposal in the General Assembly to provide immunity to parents who abandon newborns may get hung up on the question of whether evidence of child abuse would go unpunished.

        At least four bills have been filed to let a birth mother give up a child without legal consequence. Rep. Jodie Haydon, D-Bardstown, said he was motivated by stories about infants found abandoned in trash bins or on church doorsteps.

        “I'm not out so much to prosecute as I am to find a home for that unwanted baby,” Mr. Haydon said Wednesday during a meeting of the interim Health and Welfare Committee.

        Secretary Viola Miller of the Cabinet for Families and Children said she would like to see some consequences if it is determined that an abandoned infant has also been abused. “There may be other children at home that (perpetrator) may be going back to,” Ms. Miller told committee members.

        “I'm willing to turn my back, I guess, on some issues if it will save the life of this small child,” said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who helped sponsor similar legislation in 2000.

        Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, said the entire idea of condoning child abandonment by a parent or parents assumes no one else in a family may be interested in raising the child, such as grandparents.

        Mr. Seum also said the legislation implies that it is fathers who are the abusers.

        Several other states have adopted similar legislation that allows parents to give up their child shortly after birth. Ms. Miller said the reasons for abandonment vary, from embarrassment over an unintended pregnancy to concerns about being a fit parent.

        Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard, said he was concerned that absolute immunity could encourage an abusive parent to encourage abandonment to avoid prosecution.

        Dr. Mongiardo, a physician, said he also wanted any legislation to include some way to obtain or at least encourage the collection of medical histories on the parents of abandoned children. Such histories can be critical to later adoptive parents, Dr. Mongiardo said.

        The legislature will return to complete its short session on February 6.


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