Mom faces charges after newborn found in yard

Published: Jan. 18, 2012 at 5:42 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2012 at 11:41 AM CST
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Kimberly Lee (Source: St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office)
Kimberly Lee (Source: St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office)

SLIDELL, LA (WAFB) - Authorities said a mother will face cruelty and desertion charges after her newborn was found in the family's backyard Tuesday morning.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office said Kimberly Lee, 35, of Pearl River, will be arrested when she is released from the hospital. Deputies said at last report the baby was stable, but in critical condition.

Investigators said a 13-year-old boy called 911 around 7 a.m. to report he and his 15-year-old sister found a crying newborn baby wrapped in a towel and blanket on the ground. Their father wrapped the baby in more blankets to warm it until EMTs could make it to the Pearl River home.

Deputies said they and emergency medical personnel arrived to find the baby breathing and with the umbilical cord still attached. The baby was first taken to Northshore Regional Medical Center in Slidell and then flown to Ochsner Medical Center on the south shore.

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Detectives said while questioning the three family members they learned Lee had been pregnant, but her husband didn't know she had given birth. He told investigators she had left the house to go to work that morning.

The STPSO contacted Lee and advised her to go to the hospital, where she was interviewed. Deputies reported she told them she had given birth Monday morning and put the baby outside her home. They said they also learned she hid the birth from her family by wearing oversized outfits.

Authorities obtained arrest warrants for Lee on charges of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and child desertion. They added the investigation is ongoing to determine if anyone else should face criminal charges.

The sheriff's office reported the couple has an 8-year-old daughter in addition to the two teens. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is involved in the case to make sure they are safe.

Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) Secretary Ruth Johnson said Wednesday in a news release that this mother could have utilized Louisiana's Safe Haven law, which provides a legal means for parents to anonymously give up custody of infants without the threat of prosecution for neglect, abandonment or child cruelty.

"Louisiana's Safe Haven law offers a loving, safe and anonymous alternative to abandonment, allowing overwhelmed parents to leave an unwanted infant at a designated emergency-care facility without fear of prosecution," said Johnson. "I recognize the difficult decision parents who want to give up their newborns must make. The Safe Haven law is designed to keep both baby and parents safe from harm."

Under the Safe Haven law, a parent may anonymously leave a baby up to 31-days-old in the care of an individual at a designated emergency care facility. The baby must be placed in the arms of an emergency care facility employee and must show no signs of abuse or neglect. Louisiana's designated emergency care facilities are any licensed hospital, public health unit, emergency medical service provider, medical clinic, fire or police station, pregnancy crisis center or child advocacy center.

DCFS created the state's current Safe Haven policies and procedures in 2004 and launched a public awareness campaign in February 2009. Thirty-eight percent of the relinquishments in Louisiana since 2004 have occurred after the start of the campaign. The last time the Safe Haven law was utilized was September 2010, when a 2-week-old male was safely relinquished at a Baton Rouge area hospital.

DCFS recommends that parents who want to relinquish their newborns take the following steps:

1. Locate the nearest emergency care facility (i.e. hospital, public health unit, any EMS unit, medical clinic, fire or police station, pregnancy crisis center or child advocacy center).

2. Locate an employee with the facility, hand your child to them and state that you want to utilize Louisiana's Safe Haven law. The child must be handed to an employee to fulfill the Safe Haven law. The child cannot be left unattended at any time.

After the child is given up, he or she is taken for a medical checkup. The relinquishing parent is provided a card with a toll-free phone number (1-800-CHILDREN or 1-800-244-5373) to call and receive information about parental rights and provide anonymous information about the infant's medical and genetic history, if desired. A parent who wishes to initiate proceedings to reclaim custody of the child has 30 days to contact DCFS.

Meanwhile, officials at the designated emergency care facility that received the child notify DCFS, which then begins the process to obtain legal custody of the child and to free the child for adoption.

A series of high-profile infant abandonment cases across the country prompted the Louisiana Legislature to combat the problem. In 2000, Louisiana enacted the Safe Haven law, amending the Children's Code Articles 1101 and 1193 and Title XVII of the Children's Code, Articles 1701-1706, to provide for the Safe Haven relinquishment of newborns. That Code again was amended in 2003.

According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, all 50 states have some form of Safe Haven provision.

For more information about the Safe Haven law, call 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373), which is supported by Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana, or visit Safe Haven facilities can also request posters, brochures and other materials, as well as view a Safe Haven training video at the website.

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