New Hampshire

NH Baby Abandonment Arrest Highlights Option for Desperate Parents: Safe Haven

Less than two decades old in New Hampshire and only slightly older across the country, safe haven laws let parents who don't want to raise their child anonymously give them up to first responders or other caregivers

baby safe haven law
NBC 5 News

The case of the mother who allegedly called 911, then led first responders away from her newborn in the cold Manchester, New Hampshire, night just after Christmas, highlights a fairly new legal option available to new parents who don't want to keep their child: dropping them off at what's known as a safe haven.

The baby, likely born on Christmas, is doing well, police told NBC10 Boston on Wednesday. He was only found, struggling to breathe in a tent at a homeless encampment with the temperature as low as 15 degrees, more than an hour after his mother called 911, officials have said. His mother was arrested.

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Less than two decades old in New Hampshire and only slightly older across the country, safe haven laws let parents who don't want to raise their child anonymously give them up to first responders or other caregivers. There are few official statistics on safe havens, which are run state-by-state, but advocates say babies that are abandoned outside of a safe haven often die.

New Hampshire state law names hospitals, occupied churches, fire and police departments and first responders as safe havens where any child up to a week old can be dropped off. The parent does not need to reveal their identity, and the safe haven provider takes temporary care of the child until they can be turned over to the New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services.

Baby Safe Haven New England, a group that promotes safe havens in the region, was holding a news conference Thursday at the main Manchester fire station, a safe haven location, to highlight the issue.

The daughter of Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley is facing charges after allegedly leaving her newborn baby in the woods and misleading police about the child's location.

Meant to provide a better alternative than abandoning babies in public restrooms or dumpsters, there are safe haven laws in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico and Guam, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The first was enacted in Texas in 1999; New Hampshire's safe haven law dates to 2003.

More often than not, babies who are abandoned outside of safe haven locations die, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance. In 2021, of 31 babies left in dumpsters or otherwise discarded, 22 were dead, the organization said, and their unofficial statistics dating back to 1999 show that only about 38% of babies have survived being abandonded illegally.

And since 1999, more than 4,500 babies were given up at safe haven locations nationwide, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance.

Their crisis hotline, 1-888-510-BABY (2229), is staffed 24 hours a day and helps parents find options in their time of need. Save haven is a last resort 0151 other options include finding the caller parenting help and discussing adoption options.

A baby was left in the parking lot of a Massachusetts hospital Wednesday night, hospital officials confirmed.

In this week's abandonment case, the baby boy, believed to be born three months early, is 4.4 lbs. and was taken to a hospital, officials have said. He survived at least 73 minutes in the 15-degree weather, even while a state police dog was brought in to help find what officials believed would be a body.

The boy was likely born on Christmas, according to court documents charging his mother, Alexandra Eckersley, with felony assault, endangering the welfare of a child and more.

Eckersley faced the charges from a hospital bed and was ordered held on $3,000 bail. Her attorney argued her client was traumatized.

"I don't think it's unreasonable at all that she was disoriented, confused, possibly suffering from hypothermia if she had just given birth outside in the elements," attorney Jordan Strand said.

Eckersley's boyfriend, who was allegedly with Eckersley until police arrived, may face charges in the case as well, prosecutors said.

Alexandra Eckersley remained in the hospital Tuesday morning. Police arrested her on an unrelated warrant for endangering the welfare of a child. She also has been charged with felony reckless conduct in connection with this recent incident, police said.

Details were revealed in court Tuesday about the desperate search for the baby after Eckersley, the daughter of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and longtime Red Sox announcer Dennis Eckersley, called 911 to say she had given birth in the woods near the West Side Ice Arena, then allegedly led officers in the wrong direction.

Investigators allege Eckersley, 26, did it because she and her boyfriend didn't want to give the location of the tent, in an encampment for the unhoused, where she was living. Asked why she hadn't taken the baby with her, she said, "What do they tell when a plane goes down? Save yourself first," according to an affidavit filed in court.

Manchester police and fire, along with American Medical Response, searched in the area that Eckersley initially directed them to, but did not find the baby, according to Manchester police. Two first responders said Eckersley appeared to be on drugs, but Eckersley said she hadn't used for two days, according to the affidavit.

Eventually, she gave the location of where her son was, and he was retrieved alive an hour and 13 minutes after she called 911, officials said. She told them she believed the baby was born between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on the night of Christmas.

She told officials she hadn't known she was pregnant, though a confidante later said Eckersley had told her a week earlier she was pregnant, and about four or five months along, investigators said in the documents.

Authorities said first responders on scene had to perform life-saving treatment, and that the baby was believed to need intubation to help him breathe.

"They started immediately assisting the baby to breathe and keeping the baby warm and they rushed to the hospital in the fire engine," Manchester Fire Chief Jon Starr said Monday. "We were amazed that the baby was still alive but that just speaks to the professionalism of first responders here in Manchester."

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