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Abandoned baby
in state's hands

photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Melissa Trail of TGH carries Baby Angel out of the hospital Tuesday afternoon. The infant was handed over to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
By RICHARD DANIELSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


TAMPA -- Wearing a white-and-pink bonnet plucked from the head of a donated teddy bear, Baby Angel left Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday for what will probably be a brief stay in state custody before being adopted.

Angel was abandoned, naked and bloody, on a black Universal Studios T-shirt behind Town & Country Hospital last Friday shortly after her birth. She was transferred to Tampa General, where she gained more than 5 ounces and won over the staff in the four days she was there.

"We've held her, we've just loved her and we've talked to her this morning," said nurse Betty Nelson, a clinician in Tampa General's transitional nursery. "It could have been a tragic situation . . . (but) it's going to be a happy ending."

Local families dropped off clothes, toys and cards and letters for the infant, who was also called Baby Faith by some nurses, and that was just part of the help that has been offered the girl.

"We get anywhere from 100 to 150 calls" whenever an infant is abandoned, and virtually all of the callers want to adopt the child, said Tom Jones, a local spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

If Baby Angel's parents are not found, the Department of Children and Families will go to court and petition to have their rights as parents formally dissolved. That process can take 30 to 60 days if the parents are not found, up to a year if they are.

Once the parents' rights are terminated, Angel likely will be adopted, probably on the same day, Jones said. Until then, she will stay in what is essentially a foster home in Hillsborough County.

Jones said the state often ends up recruiting new adoptive parents from the people who call in about abandoned babies, but it is faster to give a child such as Angel to a family that has already applied and undergone background screening.

In addition to Angel, the state is also getting ready to go to court to terminate the rights of the parents of Baby Benjamin, an African-American boy found Feb. 24. He had been wrapped in a bloody sheet, put in a plastic garbage bag and placed next to a trash bin near Egypt Lake. Benjamin is in shelter care and thriving, Jones said.

There are about 1,200 children in Florida waiting for adoption, about 200 of them in Hillsborough County, Jones said. Of those 200, adoption arrangements have been made for all but about 60.

Most of those children are very young, which makes it easier to find adoptive parents. Jones said it becomes much more difficult to find homes for children older than 7 or 8 or for groups of siblings.

Angel weighed 7 pounds, 13/4 ounces and was 19 1/2 inches long when born after what was apparently a full-term pregnancy, nurses said. On her discharge Tuesday, she weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces and was a healthy, normal baby of Hispanic descent. She was the 32nd baby to be abandoned in a nine-county area of Central Florida since 1987.

So far, sheriff's deputies have canvassed the area around Town & Country Hospital but have not found the baby's parents.

"We're asking if anybody knows anyone who was pregnant on Thursday and was not on Friday to give us a call," sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. Carter would not comment on what charges the mother faces, but in past cases, authorities have said someone who abandons a newborn in Florida could be prosecuted for anything from child neglect to attempted murder.

"Normally if law enforcement or (we) don't locate the parent within the first 48 to 72 hours, we usually don't locate the mom," Jones said.

In response to a series of abandonments nationwide, Texas and Alabama have created "Safe Places," where mothers can drop off newborns instead of leaving them to die. More than a dozen other states, including Florida, are considering similar legislation.

"To have two babies (abandoned in Hillsborough County) in a month ... is a concern," Jones said, "but I'm glad we're finding them alive."

- Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or danielson@sptimes.com.

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