2001 Finalist
Mobile County, Alabama
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Every year thousands of newborns are abandoned in the United States. The conditions of these abandonments often lead to severe medical complications and death. Many who are spared abandonment or survive find themselves subject to abuse and neglect in later years. These incidents are overwhelmingly the result of young mothers who are unprepared for motherhood. Those who abandon their children often are prosecuted.

In 1998, District Attorney John Tyson Jr., of Mobile, Alabama, prosecuted eight adults for infant and toddler homicides. These events led an area television reporter, Jodi Brooks, to suggest that mothers in crisis have the option of bringing their children to local area hospitals. District Attorney Tyson pursued a program in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which could afford mothers this fresh alternative. A Secret Safe Place for Newborns (SSPN) is the first program of its kind.

SSPN provides mothers immunity to prosecution if they follow program guidelines. Mothers must deliver their newborn to an area hospital within 72 hours of birth and give a full family medical history. The program gives mothers three weeks to retrieve their child if they wish to do so. These safeguards allow mothers find a safe, legal alternative to abandonment, which circumvents certain social stigmas through full confidentiality.

Replication is one of the program's major goals. Within two years, SSPN became statewide law. From there, the program began a strategic communications plan to disseminate information to interested groups in other states. This plan, combined with national publicity from programs such as The Today Show and Good Morning America produced sound results. As of 2008, 46 states have followed Mobile County's example in passing legislation for similar programs. Canadian governments at the local level have also begun to contact SSPN.

Since the programs inception, only one unsafe abandonment has occurred in Mobile County. The program has received twelve newborns in that same period. These trends run counter to nationwide abandonment statistics that, over the same period, have been on the rise. Aside from the obvious benefit of saving lives, SSPN has saved Mobile County an enormous amount of time and resources that would have been used in investigation and prosecution.