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New Hotline Encourages Use of Safe Havens for Unwanted Infants

July 11, 2002|CHRISTINA L. ESPARZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County officials have launched a toll-free, multilingual hotline in hopes of encouraging women considering abandoning their newborns to drop off their babies at safe havens.

The hotline, with 40 operators providing help in more than 160 languages, was prompted by the abandonment of five babies within a month, three of whom died. The most recent body was found Tuesday morning at a Carson recycling center. The two others who died were dumped in the City of Industry and Walnut Park.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 12, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 307 words Type of Material: Correction
Baby abandonment suspect--An article in Thursday's California section incorrectly reported the height of a woman police believed to be the mother of a baby found dead at a recycling plant. Witnesses say she is about 5-foot-11 and 240 pounds.

The Safe Haven Hotline, (877) 725-5111, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Operators will advise mothers on their legal rights and refer them to the closest hospitals that will accept their babies. They also refer the mothers to counseling and other public services.

Despite a "safe haven" law that took effect last year, allowing parents to drop off newborns at hospital emergency rooms within 72 hours of birth without fear of prosecution, only two babies in Los Angeles County have been turned over since January 2001, officials said. Twenty-three infants have been abandoned since that time; 14 of them were found dead.

Statewide, however, eight babies have been safely surrendered, said Blanca Castro, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Social Services. Statistics on the numbers of babies abandoned in the state are not readily available.

"These women are not being prosecuted, and the babies are being moved for adoption," she said.

Members of the Safe Haven for Abandoned Newborns Task Force are working on broadening the law to include fire stations and health clinics as safe havens.

On Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies released a composite sketch of a woman suspected of dumping her infant daughter at a Walnut Park recycling center July 2. The baby's body was found on a conveyer belt at Best Way Recycling by workers separating trash. Authorities believe the baby was dumped at a Kmart at Vermont and Slauson avenues, said Lt. Ray Peavy.

"It's just so hard to accept or understand. I can't even visualize a baby on a [conveyer] belt," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.

Witnesses at Kmart reported seeing a woman named "Trish" or "Tisha" in a restroom stall with blood on the floor, Peavy said.

The woman is described as being between her late teens and early 30s, about 5 feet 1, and weighing about 240 pounds. She has a medium-to-dark complexion, short dark hair and dark eyes.

Anyone with information may call deputies at (323) 890-5500.

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