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In re Guardianship of Doe

Other Lower Courts

September 17, 2001

In the Matter of the Guardianship of Olivia Doe, a Child Alleged to be Abandoned.

COUNSEL

Gary Rosenthal, County Attorney, Central Islip, for Suffolk County Department of Social Services.

Legal Aid Society, Central Islip (Regina Proscia of counsel), Law Guardian.

OPINION

David Freundlich, J.

In this proceeding commenced pursuant to Social Services Law § 384-b, the petitioner, Suffolk County Department of

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Social Services, seeks an order of this court committing the guardianship and custody of a child, Olivia Doe, date of birth January 6, 2001, to the Commissioner for purposes of adoption. The gravamen of the allegations in the petition verified on July 9, 2001 is that the infant, who came into the care and custody of the Department of Social Services on the day of her birth, has been abandoned within the meaning of Social Services Law § 384-b (4) (b).

The circumstances surrounding the placement of the infant into the care and custody of the Commissioner on January 6, 2001 are unique and noteworthy. The distinguishing factor of this case is that the abandonment is not merely predicated on the failure to maintain contact with the child or agency, but more significantly on the parent's affirmative step in placing the newborn child at a designated " safe haven" site. According to the papers and proof in this proceeding, the mother of the infant took her to Huntington Hospital several hours after the birth (which ostensibly occurred in the mother's home) and left the infant with Huntington Hospital staff in accord with a local County program established under the " Abandoned Infant Protection Act." This recent legislation, which became law on May 15, 2000 (L 2000, ch 156), was enacted in response to parental abandonment of a newborn child in places which may result in the injury or even death of the child.

Specifically this Act adds and/or amends certain provisions of the Social Services Law and the Penal Law with respect to the effect of parental desertion of unwanted children. In relevant part, it " de-criminalizes" the otherwise criminal act of abandonment of a child under certain circumstances, to wit:

" with the intent that the child be safe from physical injury and cared for in an appropriate manner, the defendant left the child with an appropriate person or in a suitable location and promptly notified an appropriate person of the child's location" (Penal Law § 260.03 [eff July 18, 2000]).

In accord with the Abandoned Infant Protection Act, and consistent with the mandate set forth in Social Services Law § 372-g, Suffolk County Department of Social Services developed a program designed to facilitate the safe and orderly placement of newborns by parents who otherwise would have been inclined to place their infants in peril by dangerous physical desertion. The County created several " safe havens," in

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partnership with local hospitals, whereby a parent could deliver an unwanted newborn to a designated site, in anonymous fashion, without threat of reprisal or criminal prosecution. Huntington Hospital is one of those designated " safe havens," and it is there that the mother of this newborn went several hours after the child's birth. The newborn was physically turned over to hospital staff, who, in turn, placed the child with the Department of Social Services as a destitute or dependent child.

Although the Abandoned Infant Protection Act is obviously designed to facilitate the safe placement of unwanted infants for purposes of adoption, it creates no new procedural methods for adoption, nor does it by-pass any of the consent requirements of the Domestic Relations Law. Thus, the Department of Social Services was relegated to a " normal" termination of parental rights proceeding under Social Services Law § 384-b, which, in this case, could only be predicated upon abandonment. Accordingly, after the newborn was left in the ...


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