Editor's note: In June 2018, a young mother left her newborn in a laundry basket at the doorstep of a Dededo family she believed would care for her child. She was arrested for abandoning her child, causing a public debate about whether she had the child's best interests at heart. The woman is poor, has other children, and is a known drug user. Some states in the country have laws that allow parents, who know they can't take care of their children, to leave their children in the care of responsible people. Shortly after the Dededo incident, Sen. Mary Torres introduced legislation allowing distressed mothers to call 911 for emergency medics to take newborn infants from them and place the babies in a safe haven. The senator has introduced legislation updating that statute.
The following is news from the Office of Sen. Mary Torres:
Nothing is more important than protecting our children. In recognition of National Safe Haven Awareness month, senators have introduced a measure to expand landmark legislation for Guam’s newborn infants.
Bill No. 109-36 (COR) would allow mothers in distress to call 911 and anonymously relinquish an infant to emergency medical service providers for retrieval—ensuring newborns are kept out of harm’s way and brought to a Safe Haven location immediately.
While the Newborn Infant Safe Haven Act or NISHA (Public Law 34-120), authored by Senator Mary Camacho Torres in 2018, allows distressed mothers to relinquish their baby at an authorized safe haven, Bill 109 would aid those under extenuating circumstances who may not have the resources or means of transportation to relinquish their child.
The bill further amends the chain of custody for infants relinquished under NISHA, allowing for an adoption agency identified by Child Protective Services (CPS) to assume physical custody of the newborn. Under current statute, infants are placed in foster custody until permanent placement can be arranged—a process which may take months, if not longer, to complete.
According to the Bureau of Social Services and Administration, Guam has over 250 children in foster care and less than 50 licensed foster families. Now that Guam has non-profit adoption services, inserting adoption agencies into the chain of custody will allow infants to be placed with pre-approved families—easing the burden on our already-strained foster care system.
To ensure these agencies are recognized in the adoption process, Torres also introduced Bill No. 108-36 (COR), which streamlines adoption policies and procedures in the Guam Administrative Rules and Regulations.
“No one wants to see a mother give up her child, but this community has a responsibility to provide every available option to prevent abandonment and safeguard our children,” said Senator Torres. “If you find yourself with no other alternative and are considering abandonment, please know you are not alone. Guam law provides a safe place for your infant. You can come forward without shame, and we will find a loving home as quickly as possible.”