Few are aware of safe haven statutes
What was Rayen Puleski’s life like?
He was just 4 months old when his heroin-addicted mother allegedly wrapped his body in a plastic bag and hid it in the grassy area behind her Schenectady apartment building.
The callous manner in which Rayen’s body was disposed suggests that his short life was one of struggle and deprivation.
Caring for a baby is hard — I know, because I have one — and it doesn’t get any easier when you’re deep in the throes of a debilitating drug addiction, as Rayen’s mother, Heaven Puleski, is said to have been.
Ever since news of Ray-en’s disappearance broke, I’ve wondered why Heaven Puleski failed to take the one step that might have given Rayen a chance at a better life — at any life at all, really.
Why didn’t a woman so clearly unfit to be a parent relinquish custody of her child?
Under New York’s safe haven law, she could have done so fairly easily, without fear of criminal repercussion.
Passed in 2000, the law permits a parent to anonymously give up a baby up to 30 days of age, so long as the baby is delivered to an appropriate person or suitable location. Examples of suitable locations are police stations, hospitals and fire stations, according to the Office of Children and Family Services.
The intent of safe haven laws is a good one — saving the lives of unwanted babies whose parents might otherwise discard them in a dumpster or public bathroom.
According to the Baby Safe Haven website, which provides information about safe haven laws in every state, over 2,000 babies “have been known to have been positively impacted by the Baby Safe Haven program.”
Those 2,000 tiny lives are certainly worth celebrating.
Unfortunately, the research indicates that safe haven laws might not be as effective as advocates had hoped.
Many women remain unaware of such laws, and therefore are unlikely to take advantage of them.
As one 2015 USA Today story noted, safe haven laws “were enacted nationwide, with the final states adopting Baby Safe Haven laws in 2009, but none came with funding to purchase signs, public-service announcements or educational materials.”
Earlier this year, four babies were abandoned in northern New Jersey, prompting officials to push for better awareness of the state’s safe haven laws. Three of the four babies — who were left on train tracks, in a vacant house, near a home and on someone’s front porch — died.
My guess is that the vast majority of people who abandon their babies have never heard of their state’s safe haven law.
And if they’ve never heard of it, there’s no way they can turn to it in a time of crisis.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the short life of Rayen Puleski.
But his death was likely preventable, which might be the saddest thing of all.
For more information about the state’s Safe Haven program, call 1-866-505-SAFE.
Reach Sara Foss at email@example.com. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.
Sara Foss THINKING IT THROUGH