RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state Senate this week unanimously passed a bill making revisions to a state law that allows parents in crisis to surrender a newborn baby within the first few days of its life.
Sen. Jim Burgin (R-Harnett), one of the lead sponsors of the bill said it would make a few key changes to a law that went into effect in 2001.
Current law allows a person to surrender an infant to another responsible adult as long as the child is no more than seven days old and is not a victim of abuse or neglect.
The bill would change that to call on a parent to surrender the infant to: health care providers, first responders or social services workers.
“Right now, the law says that you can surrender a child to any adult. We’re very concerned about human trafficking and exploitation of a child,” Sen. Burgin said.
The state Dept. of Health and Human Services said the proposed changes stem from recommendations made by the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.
The bill also addresses privacy rights for the parent surrendering the infant as well as the ability for the adult taking care of the surrendered child to seek custody.
“We want to make sure that women know they can turn the new infant seven days or younger over to someone who will protect their life,” Burgin said.
In discussing the bill, Burgin mentioned a case in Richmond County in late January when someone discovered a newborn baby boy’s body alongside railroad tracks.
Investigators said the infant appeared to have been alive only for a matter of hours. The sheriff’s office later charged Kimberly Dawn Harris, of Rockingham, with murder.
“It’s just sad that this baby could have been dropped off somewhere. And, as a lot of people said in the community, just bring it to over my house. I ain’t ask you no questions. Leave him at my house,” Chief Deputy Jay Childers told WJZY.
Since 2007, 16 children have been surrendered under the law, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill also requires boards of education to inform high school students of the provisions of the law. Charter, non-public and home schools also would be subject to that requirement.
“If a parent or caregiver feels like they are overloaded with stress, they’re alone and they’re feeling like they can’t do it on their own, we want them to feel like they can reach out and ask for help,” Kris Demers, a spokesperson for Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, said. “Child maltreatment is preventable. It’s solvable. And, it’s a public issue.”