The practice of abandoning newborns shortly after birth has always existed. Occurring in primitive and contemporary societies, the motivations for newborn abandonment are varied and dependent upon the social norms of a specific geographic region at a given point in time. Because the desire to abandon an infant has had no support system in American society, such unwanted infants have been abandoned in a manner leading to their deaths. In response, many states have passed safe-haven legislation to save the lives of unwanted newborns. The laws typically specify a mother's ability to “abandon” her child to a medical service provider. However, judgmental attitudes and a lack of accurate information may impede a health care provider's ability to carry out a safe-haven law. The study described here examines a sample of nurses in a state with a safe-haven law. The study revealed no significant correlation between a nurse's knowledge, attitude, and self-perception of preparedness to manage a newborn abandonment event. However, the outcomes highlight the negative attitudes and lack of knowledge many nurses possess regarding newborn abandonment and the women who commit this act. Educational programs for all health care providers and the community are essential to the efficacy of the legislation that currently exists. Continued multidisciplinary strategizing and general awareness are needed to serve as catalysts to build supports for unwanted newborns and their safe assimilation into the community.
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Document Type: Research Article
SANDRA CESARIO is Director of Research and Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at Texas Woman's University located in the Houston Medical Center. She is a member of the Harris County Baby Abandonment Task Force and has received a Parry Grant from Texas Woman's University to study the phenomenon of newborn abandonment.
Publication date: March 1, 2003
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