A proposed amendment to the state’s Safe Haven laws would allow parents to surrender their baby by placing him or her in safe boxes at designated locations, which is a change from the current law that requires parents to surrender children in-person to public safety workers.
Firefighter and Española Firefighter’s Union President John Wickersham has been the primary advocate for House Bill 18, which is being sponsored by Rep. Ambrose Castellano, D-San Miguel, Santa Fe, and Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Rio Arriba, and has also been endorsed by the state firefighter’s union.
“This is a safe, judgment-free way to hand over a baby, so the mother doesn’t feel blamed, or as bad,” Wickersham said.
Currently only one company produces the boxes, a non-profit organization called Safe Haven Baby Boxes of Woodburn, Indiana. The boxes cost about $10,000 and are temperature-controlled with cameras and an alarm that notifies dispatch when a baby has been put inside. The box is also attached to the building, whether it’s a fire department, hospital or police station. The law will require that the building be staffed 24/7, and in Española the first would be installed at the fire station.
“The baby is in there for no longer than five minutes,” Wickersham said.
The bill will not require any cities to install the boxes, but just allows for that possibility. Wickersham has reached out to departments across the state through the state firefighter’s union and says that many different municipalities are in support of the bill. He also said there weren’t a lot of children being surrendered in Española but hopes that this will make it easier for mothers who think that is the best choice.
“I was actually adopted and if I could, I would find my birth parents and tell them, you know, thank you, you did the right thing,” Wickersham said. “There are options and putting your kid up for adoption is one of them.”
For bill sponsor Castellano, he feels similarly about offering infant New Mexicans a new chance at life.
“I’m supporting this bill because this gives people, our infants, a safe place to at least keep on living,” he said. “It’s under conditions that nobody can get prosecuted criminally for the abandonment or the abuse of a child, as long as they’re left in these Safe Haven boxes.”
The bill has been recommended to the Health and Human Services Committee but a date to consider it has not been set.
“As a freshman legislator, this is really one of the first bills that I want to introduce and be in committee with,” Castellano said. And I hope it goes through, I hope people see the bill for what it is and what the intent of the bill is.”
Española Mayor Javier Sanchez is also in support of the bill.
“We’ve sort of been up there advocating for it, marketing for it and, and trying to get as much support for it in our community,” Sanchez said. “John Wickersham is a proud firefighter who sees the ins and outs of some of the problems that we have in our city, but most importantly, he sees the opportunity out of it. If he feels like he wants to champion that opportunity for folks, I’m going to support him 100 percent.”