City of Carlsbad Fire Department Chief Richard Lopez said a $10,000 grant from the State of New Mexico will help establish an infant safe surrender program in the City of Carlsbad.
“If you save one child it’s worth its weight in gold,” he said.
Tuesday night Carlsbad’s City Council approved the grant from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (NMDFA) Local Government Division (LGD) for surrender safety devices, also known as baby boxes.
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In early 2022 a baby was found inside a dumpster in Hobbs, in neighboring Lea County. The infant survived frigid temperatures and the mother, 18-year-old Alexis Avila, was charged with attempted first-degree murder and abuse of a child resulting in great bodily harm. Avila’s trial is set for Dec. 19 in Fifth Judicial District Court in Lovington, according to online court records.
Lopez said the incident in Hobbs prompted the City of Carlsbad to move forward on the installation of a safe surrender device.
Oct. 5 NMDFA announced the $10,000 provisions to local governments. The grants were part of $330,000 approved by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to provide local governments with funds to plan, design, construct, equip and install the devices statewide, according to a DFA news release.
In a memorandum to councilors, Lopez said the safe surrender box would be located at the main station at 401 South Halagueno Street.
The estimated cost of a safe surrender box in Carlsbad was $11,000 with an annual service fee of $300.
“Additional costs are estimated at $5,000 to $7,500 which include(s) delivery, installation and hook up,” Lopez noted in the memo.
Lopez added implementation of the safe surrender box might require City Council to pass an ordinance at a later date.
According to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes website, a safe surrender box allows a parent in crisis to place an infant in a safe, secure and anonymous environment inside the box on an outside wall of a fire station or hospital.
An exterior door locks automatically once the infant is placed in the box. An inside door allows medical staff or firefighters to secure the baby in a safe environment, the Safe Haven website noted.
In New Mexico the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) takes emergency custody of surrendered infants, noted the agency’s website.
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CYFD then investigates the immediate needs of the baby and provides government-based health benefits and services. The agency is required to look into potential abuse or neglect, according to the CYFD’s website.
CYFD said parents could surrender infants up to three months old.
NMDFA spokesperson Baylee Rawson said once the agency attained the signed agreement from the City of Carlsbad and forms sought for reimburse were completed NMDFA would disburse funds to the City of Carlsbad.
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway said the safe surrender box could be implemented in Carlsbad in early 2023.
“The terrible situation in Hobbs where a child was rescued from a dumpster horrified everyone, and it is certainly our hope that the addition of one more baby box will protect these babies,” said Janway.
Sara Ghiorse, executive director of NewMexicoWomen.Org (NMW.O), said safe surrender boxes provide options for women. NMW.O works to advance opportunities for women and girls statewide to lead self-sufficient, healthy and empowered lives, according to the organization’s website.
“I think it’s important that we don’t talk about these issues in a silo or a vacuum. This is in a context and why was that woman put in that position to begin with? What services is she not getting?” she said.
She said reproductive and mental health options should be considered for potentially troubled parents like Avila.
“How have we divested from women and girls to the point where they were are put in that position to do such an egregious act to their own child? We have to think of the broader picture for that poor woman,” Ghiorse said.
Are safe surrender boxes a lifeline?
NMDFA Secretary Debbie Romero said safe surrender boxes saved 21 lives in the United States in 2022.
“Although surrendering a child can be a difficult decision for parents and guardians, we are thankful for the opportunity to provide funding for an alternate option that ensures the safety and welfare of the child,” she said in the news release.
Under the New Mexico Safe Haven for Infants Act, a baby box legally permits a parent or guardian in a crisis to safely, securely and anonymously surrender an infant that that cannot be cared for, according to the DFA news release.
New Mexico Sen. David Gallegos (R-41) said Hobbs and other communities in New Mexico considered the placement of safe surrender boxes.
Gallegos planned to introduce a bill in the 2023 New Mexico legislative session to allow parents to contact emergency dispatchers and transport an infant to a local hospital in order to surrender custody.
“We need to just continue to save lives,” he said.
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Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.