Following the reports of a newborn's slaying in southwest Bakersfield, one question continually popped up on social media.
Why didn't the family take advantage of the Safely Surrendered Baby Law?
While there is a massive difference between abandoning a child and intentionally killing it, and much about the newborn's Nov. 12 death remains unknown, it appears the county's safe-surrender program popped into the minds of many who heard the unsettling news.
Police say Beant Kaur Dhillon, 43, took her then-15-year-old daughter's newborn boy and drowned it to "prevent family shame." She then, with the help of a nephew and her husband's knowledge, buried the body in their backyard.
The incident came to light Feb. 26 when the daughter, now 16, contacted a third party who alerted authorities, police said. The infant's remains were discovered and Dhillon and her husband, Jagsir Singh, 47, were arrested. The nephew, Bakhshinderpal Singh Mann, 33, remains at large.
Police say the daughter is a victim and not suspected of wrongdoing.
Heidi Carter-Escudero, of the county Department of Human Services, said Friday that the reality of every person who safely surrenders their baby is they are experiencing a crisis situation. The law prevents those who take custody of the baby from learning the exact nature of those crises, but each case is one in which the mother cannot keep their child, she said.
One such case occurred in the Central Valley in February, where a mother abandoned a baby girl in the middle of a rural road in Madera. The girl was found and taken to a hospital, according to The Fresno Bee, then later released to the Madera County Department of Social Services, which placed the girl with a foster family.
In Kern, 71 children have been safely surrendered since the county began tracking those numbers in 2006. And after this past week's grisly revelations surfaced, the Bakersfield Police Department tweeted a reminder about the law.
The law allows a parent or someone who has been given legal possession of the child to surrender the baby within three days of birth at any emergency room or fire station. No explanation is required.
A bracelet is placed on the baby for identification, and a matching bracelet is given to the parent. The parent then has at least 14 days to claim the child if they change their mind.
If the baby isn't claimed, it's placed in a foster or pre-adoptive home.
Carter-Escudero said anonymity is key. Even if the mother has checked into a hospital to give birth, then surrenders the child, her name will be kept anonymous. The majority of safe surrenders in Kern occur in that manner.
"That's the best-case scenario because it happens in the safest way possible, not just for the baby but the mother as well," Carter-Escudero said.
She said the county's Safe Surrender Coalition works to educate the public on and publicize the law as well as come up with best practices to make the process as easy as possible.
For instance, some counties don't allow a woman to safely surrender the baby if she's given birth in a hospital. The mother must first check out of the facility, then come back in to go through the safe-surrender process.
Also, some counties only allow the safe surrender to occur in emergency rooms. Kern decided years ago to extend that to fire stations to provide more options to those in crisis, Carter-Escudero said.
Officials are looking to do whatever possible to help prevent incidents like what occurred in November.
"Any time a tragedy like this happens in our community, it breaks our heart," she said. "It breaks the community's heart."
For more information and the locations of safe-surrender sites, call 877-BABY-SAF (877-222-9723). Or call the county Department of Human Services' emergency line at 631-6011.