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The discovery of a baby girl in a Sydney backyard has prompted renewed calls for safe and anonymous delivery zones to allow parents to drop off unwanted babies without risk to the baby.
The baby, believed to be days old, was found on Friday in a family’s backyard in Sydney’s western suburb of Blacktown. The child is in good health and is now in the care of the New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice.
Police are urging the mother, whose identity is unknown, to come forward amid fears for her well-being.
Abandoning a child is illegal in Australia, but NSW Police have stressed the mother is not in trouble. Police believe the baby, who will be placed in state care once she is released from hospital, was not born in a hospital.
“Giving birth can be quite traumatic and we are concerned for her safety and well-being, both physically and mentally. We’re trying to help her,” Blacktown Police Acting Inspector David McInerney told reporters on Saturday.
“It’s very worrying, but he has no problems with the police. I want to underline that.”
The whereabouts of the child are believed to be “completely coincidental” and have no connection to the mother, a police spokesman told AAP.
The case reignited calls for legal changes around unwanted children, with Tasmanian Labor Senator Helen Polley saying it was necessary for Australia to catch up with other parts of the world.
For 15 years, Polley has called for state governments to introduce “safe haven for children” laws, which would allow parents to abandon children in hospitals or police stations without fear of prosecution.
Similar laws and ways to allow parents to anonymously abandon an unwanted child have been in place for years in Canada and parts of the United States and Europe. Police stations and hospitals throughout the United States have “baby boxes” that are temperature controlled and alert workers when the box is opened.
In Australia, parents can opt out of childcare through social services. But Polley said another option is needed for people who are desperate or vulnerable.
“We would all much prefer women to be able to hold their own babies and get the support they need to do so, but that’s not always what happens,” she said.
“If it would also save a child’s life, then it’s worth it.”
In 2014, the NSW Government said it was looking into setting up safe deposit boxes for unwanted babies after two newborns were found abandoned within a week.
In a report two years later on one of the newborns, who was found buried in the sand dunes of Maroubra beach, a NSW coroner also recommended the state introduce safe haven laws and safe abandon zones.
Professor Amy Conley Wright, an expert on child and family social work at the University of Sydney, said it was a big problem that no state in Australia had yet introduced safe haven laws and safe abandon zones.
“When people have an unwanted pregnancy, they may find themselves in desperate circumstances and not realize the support available to them and they may do something terrible,” Wright said.
“We need to give mothers more options.”
In other countries where this is being done, Wright said children are placed in state care and a foster or foster home is found.
– Additional reports from AAP
In Australia, the Crisis Helpline Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org