Since 1994, the Kansas attorney general’s office has recorded 13 instances of newborn homicides, three of those in 2009 alone, said Gavin Young, communications director for the attorney general’s office.

And yet, the state’s safe haven law has been used only once, by a Wichita mother earlier this month.


A 24-year-old woman in Emporia is facing attempted murder charges after abandoning her newborn in a Dumpster last week, not an uncommon scenario in Kansas despite laws that allow a parent to forfeit custody of an unwanted infant — no questions asked.
Since 1994, the Kansas attorney general’s office has recorded 13 instances of newborn homicides, three of those in 2009 alone, said Gavin Young, communications director for the attorney general’s office.
And yet, the state’s safe haven law has been used only once, by a Wichita mother earlier this month.
The law allows anyone with legal custody of a baby 45 days old or younger to give up the child without fear of legal penalties.
The Kansas law was revised in 2007 but had been on the books in some form for many years prior to the revision, Young said.
“(Kansas Social and Rehabilitative Services) does not have any record of this law ever being used,” Young said.
The recent case has not yet been confirmed and recorded by SRS, and Young said he could not provide more details.
There were no incidents on record before this month.
The Kansas Newborn Infant Protection Act permits an unharmed child to be surrendered at any fire or EMS station, medical facility or city or county health department within 45 days of birth.
If there is no indication of abuse, parents face no threat of legal repercussions for abandonment or neglect.
The child then becomes a ward of the state. The object of Kansas’ law and similar laws in other states is to prevent harm to unwanted infants.
Young attributes the high rate of newborn homicides in recent years, even while the law has been in effect, to a lack of education about the safe haven law.
“That seems to be the issue, that people just don’t know,” Young said.
For parents who abandon newborns in Dumpsters or otherwise harm or kill their infants, Young said punishments vary, but prison time is almost guaranteed.
“The cases that we’ve prosecuted in the last couple years have been murder charges,” he said.
In neighboring states, safe haven laws have been used more frequently than in Kansas.
Oklahoma does not track the number of children who become wards of the state via safe haven surrender, but Sheree Powell, communication coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said the Oklahoma law has been used.
“We do know that there have been some children that have entered the system that way,” she said.
A safe haven law enacted in Nebraska in 2008 caused widespread criticism of similar laws.
The Nebraska legislature passed the law without setting an age limit on children that could be surrendered.
The legislature revised the law four months later, adding an age limit, after 36 children, many of them teens, were abandoned at hospitals and other safe havens.
No infants were surrendered during that period.
The laws also have drawn criticism from those questioning their effectiveness, but supporters contend the laws provide an alternative to abortion and abandonment.
All 50 states have some form of safe haven law.