By Jessica Cohen
For the Gazette
PORT JERVIS - If the young woman who left her newborn daughter to die in a Port Jervis parking lot in February had known she could leave the baby anonymously in a safe place, would she?
Tim Jaccard, a Nassau County police paramedic, wants more people to know that they can.
He was encountering too many dead babies in 1998 - one left in a toilet, one in a recycling bin, one dug up by a dog in a yard, among others. In the same period, his daughter had two miscarriages, so he knew those dead babies would have been cherished elsewhere.
“Autopsies have shown that only about 15-20 percent of abandoned babies were born dead, mostly with drugs in their systems from their mothers,” Jaccard said. Meanwhile, he said, “Most adoptive parents have been waiting years to adopt.”
He suggested legislation that would allow people to leave babies in a safe place without prosecution. He first approached then-governor George Pataki, who rejected the idea, but George Bush, who was then governor of Texas, moved forward with it. Now most states have a similar law, and almost 3,800 babies have been safely surrendered that way, Jaccard said.
He is godfather to several of those children who go through Child Protective Services to adoptive homes. Some of the children have regular gatherings, he said. He is founder and president of the AMT Children of Hope Foundation, “AMT” standing for Ambulance Medical Technicians. The group was initially convened to bury a dead baby.
To prevent more tragic baby abandonments, Port Jervis Police Chief William Worden is working with Bon Secours Community Hospital staff to post information about New York’s “safe haven” law.
“New York State’s Abandoned Infant Protection Act allows a parent to abandon a newborn baby up to 30 days of age anonymously and without fear of prosecution, if the baby is abandoned in a safe manner,” Worden said. “The location must be staffed, and the parent must turn the child over to a responsible person. It would be unsafe for a child to be left at a doorstep at a potential safe haven location if the child was not turned over to a responsible person. A parent is not guilty of a crime if the infant is left with an appropriate person or in a suitable location and the parent promptly notifies an appropriate person of the infant’s location. A hospital, staffed police station or fire station are examples of safe and suitable choices.”
Jaccard recently sent Worden a manual on the “safe haven” program, along with signs to post, with a hotline number. Big posters about the program cover the sides of trailers. He would like television spots, but they cost $10,000, and the media has not offered them, he said.
Women often choose to leave babies at fire stations rather than hospitals, where they worry about scrutiny by security, said Jaccard. He notes that fathers of surrendered babies have until 30 days after birth to have a say in placement if their DNA matches the infant’s. After 90 days, parental rights of both mother and father are terminated. An ad must be placed for 60 days before termination.
“We had about 43 last year who came back,” Jaccard said. “We offer help.”
His foundation accepts relinquished infants and provides counseling. As a police paramedic, Jaccard has delivered babies in a wide variety of situations, including the back of a bus in the Bronx and twins born on a rock in Central Park. He has observed the array of circumstances that prompt women to give up their children.
“Many are illegal immigrants worried about being deported,” he said. “Several hundred of the 3,000 surrendered babies resulted from rapes. Some live in poverty. Some are in denial about their pregnancy until around the seventh month. Then they say, ‘What do I do?’”
Jaccard goes to high schools and gives presentations about the realities of sex, pregnancy and childbirth, addressing myths about birth control.
Meanwhile, he says, the babies get good homes, whatever their condition or race.
“I know three babies born drug-addicted,” he said. “Structure in their lives helped them.”
Those with learning disabilities or Down’s syndrome also have accommodating parents, he said. And some are now preparing for college.
AMT Children of Hope Hotline: 1-877-796-HOPE (4673)