KCFD could soon reach compromise on safe haven law

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The end of a years-long feud between the Kansas City Fire Department and local child abuse prevention advocates is almost in sight.

At the center of the fight is Missouri's safe haven law, which allows mothers to legally abandon newborns at certain specified places.

Every state has some type of safe haven law, but they vary in scope.

In Missouri, a parent will not be prosecuted for abandoning a child up to five days old so long as the child is left with a hospital employee, firefighter, EMT or police officer.

After that, a parent could still drop a baby off for up to one year, but could face charges.
      
On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Silvey filed a bill that would make Missouri law mirror the Kansas safe haven law, allowing a parent to abandon a child at one of those designated areas for up to 45 days without fear of prosecution.
        
Child abuse prevention advocates argue that if more mothers knew about the safe haven laws, there might be more desperate parents who take advantage of the law and stay out of prison.

"If we work together as a community, I think we can save the lives of children," said David Francis, with the child abuse roundtable committee. "If we just save one child, it's worth it."

But Francis said he was stunned when -- after every other fire, police and hospital readily displayed the Safe Haven signs and agreed to educate the public on the issue -- the Kansas City Fire Department said no, and has for years.

"They looked at it like -- 'Well, that's a liability, and we could get sued over that,'" Francis said.

Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said it's about the safety of the children.

"It's problematic for fear somebody would relinquish their baby at the fire station, and God forbid somebody wasn't there," he explained. "That happens quite a bit."
       
But late Tuesday, Berardi said he's willing to post the signs -- if they explain a child must be given to a specific person, not just a place.

"That's all we're saying ... put it in our hands instead of the door step," he said.

Berardi said a change in policy could happen soon.

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