What to do if you find an abandoned baby
Vulnerable, exposed, helpless… an abandoned baby begins their life in a powerless position. But that doesn’t have to be the end of their story and with the right knowledge and support structures these precious lives can not only be saved but delivered into greatness.
There are no recent statistics on child abandonment in South Africa, but most organisations believe that the numbers have increased since the statistic released by Child Welfare that 3500 babies were abandoned in 2010.* A highly complex issue abandonment is caused by many factors, including weak support structures, gender inequality, violence, HIV/AIDS, mass urbanisation, the vulnerability of young girls and overwhelming poverty.* Abandoned babies can be left in a number of places, with the highest frequency of spots being toilets, drains, sewers and gutters; rubbish dumps and landfills; parks or an open veld; baby safes and hospitals.*
Whatever the reason and wherever they are placed it’s important to know exactly what to do in this situation so that help can be administered immediately. Child Welfare Durban and District (CWDD) is mandated by the Department of Social Development (DSD) to render services to the abandoned babies.They have kindly shared their expertise on what to do if you find an abandoned baby.
- CWDD would then submit a Form 39 application to the DSD on behalf of the temporary safe facility to obtain authorisation to care for the child temporarily whilst CWDD completes the investigations on the child.
- You are allowed to pick up the baby to share some warmth and love as it will probably be cold. Unfortunately, if the baby has passed away it cannot be touched.
- Phone the South African Police Force (SAPS). This must be your first port of call because in essence you are stepping into a criminal case. Abandonment is illegal and the SAPS will need to open a case and start an investigation. SAPS would then liaise with CWDD to place the child in temporary safe care in a facility such as Fairhavens Baby Home.
- Stay where you are. You are not allowed to take the baby to a place of safety (like Fairhavens) or the hospital, that is the role of the police officer and they will come to you.
- Once the police have arrived they will take the baby to the District surgeon for a medical assessment.
- From this point on CWDD will investigate into the case. Once the Form 39 is approved by DSD, the SAPS will inform the Children’s Court that the child has been abandoned and recommend an initiation of the Children’s Court Inquiry. The Children’s Court will then refer the Inquiry to CWDD for investigations pending finalisation. Upon receipt of this referral a social worker would be assigned to the child to undertake the necessary investigations and recommend to the court options for the permanency placement of the child.
Throughout this whole process it’s important to keep calm and think clearly. Seek counsel if you are battling with the trauma of the event.
Abandonment and adoption are governed by Children’s Act 38 of 2005, one of the largest pieces of legislation to be created under our new constitution in SA.
-Jasu Jagjivan, Adoptions: Manager, Child Welfare Durban & District
*National Adoption Coalition, Fact Sheet on Child Abandonment Research in South Africa, http://www.adoptioncoalitionsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Fact-Sheet-Research-on-Child-Abandonment-in-South-Africa_Final2.pdf