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August 23, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Last week, an as-yet-unnamed Houston mother abandoned an eight-month old baby boy at a local fire station. The child was discovered and placed in foster care while the news media and police tried to figure out who’d left the child behind. Read about it here (Houston Chronicle, 8/13/13).

Now a woman has come forward to say that she was the one who abandoned the baby and that she doesn’t want him back. The court has ordered DNA testing, but a Child Protective Services spokeswoman says they’re pretty sure the woman is the little boy’s mother.

"She still wants to leave him under our care," Child Protective Services spokeswoman Estella Olguin said. "She looks just like him. She had all of his paperwork and photos of him throughout the months."

The child was born on Dec. 16, which makes him 8 months old on Friday. Medical personnel had estimated the 20-pound boy was 9 or 10 months old.

The woman, who is in her early 30s, also has a teenage child. The family has no previous involvement with CPS.

The mother also was interviewed by two Houston Police Department detectives, Olguin said.

A judge ordered DNA testing Tuesday, which was performed on the woman shortly after court. Later, a caseworker went to her home and retrieved the child's birth certificate, Social Security card and medical records.

Eventually, CPS got around to asking the woman about the child’s father, but it’s unclear what she told them. Somehow, the man has now gotten wind of his child’s abandonment and has come forward to claim the boy. Because he and the mother aren’t married, he too will undergo genetic testing to determine paternity. Results of the two DNA tests should come back soon.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting a few details of the case. One is the criminal aspect of it. Texas has a “Baby Moses” law that allows a parent to hand a child over to various public agencies including the police, fire stations and hospitals within 60 days of the child’s birth. If the child is in good condition, the parent can walk away from it, no questions asked. The child will be placed with CPS with the intention of its being adopted.

But of course this child is far older than 60 days, so what the woman did constituted some form of child endangerment. Now, the child seems to be in good health, so whatever legal consequences flow from her abandonment of him shouldn’t be too severe. She has no history of injury to- or neglect of- her other child. But this occurred in a city that arrests parents for watching their children play at the end of a cul-de-sac, so you’d think this woman would face some legal repercussions, but so far there’ve been none.

Indeed, CPS seems to be all too happy about the woman’s conduct.

While this case doesn't qualify under the state's "Baby Moses" law, Olguin said officials are pleased that the child was delivered unharmed to a fire station.

"She recognized that she couldn't take care of him, and we applaud her for taking him somewhere safe," Olguin said, adding that parents who are overwhelmed or in crisis have options.

Indeed they do, and the woman in question availed herself of none of them. For example, instead of abandoning the child outside a fire station, she could have rung up CPS, explained her situation and had them take the child into foster care. With the help of CPS, she could have her rights terminated and the child likely would have been adopted out of foster care. But she didn’t do that.

She could have simply placed the child for adoption herself. Adoption agencies are usually happy to get a healthy infant, i.e. the type that’s easy to place – and such an organization would have smoothed the process for the woman.

Either of those alternatives would have been (a) legal and (b) much safer for the child than what the woman did. So CPS’s applause for the woman’s plainly neglectful and possibly abusive behavior looks bizarre at best.

Yes, it could have been worse. She could have done what the Lubbock mother did last year when she became upset at her husband’s second military deployment overseas. That mother just walked away from her home, leaving three children, all under the age of five, to fend for themselves. One died, and the other two survived, but barely. So the Houston woman could have done worse, but to applaud the fact that the child wasn’t injured or dead seems to place the bar a bit low.

And what about Dad? The two aren’t married, but if the man is the boy’s father – and he certainly believes he is – the woman’s behavior becomes outrageous. It looks like maternal gatekeeping carried to an extreme. She didn’t want the child, so she left him at a fire station instead of giving Dad an opportunity to care for him. That state of affairs went on for over a week and apparently she never told him what she’d done.

And if her frank attempt to keep him out of his son’s life has raised any eyebrows in the news media, the courts or with CPS, no one’s let on about it. Indeed, all concerned seem to find what she did entirely natural. Their only consideration is whether the child was in good health, and surely that’s the most important thing. But the idea that, as long as the little tyke hadn’t been abused, there weren’t any other questions to ask is astonishing.

Of course child welfare agencies have a long history of refusing to even attempt to locate fathers when mothers are found to be unfit. The Urban Institute studied the matter back in 2006 and found that in well over half the cases, no attempt was made to contact fathers even though almost 90% of them had been identified.

With that in mind, the agency’s “applause” for the woman becomes a bit more understandable. Why would they criticize her for trying to shut a father out of a child’s life when that may well be their mindset as well?

Then of course there’s the matter of child support. If the man proves to be the boy’s father and receives custody, he should receive child support from the mother, but between now and then, many things can happen. CPS may decide he’s unfit, and, if they do and the child is adopted, as is very likely, the federal government will fork over a hefty wad of cash. So CPS can be counted on to resist the man’s bid for custody.

Should he clear that hurdle, I expect we’ll see Mom change her mind about wanting the child. Faced with no child and a support order versus keeping the boy, I won’t be surprised to see her relocate her maternal instinct.

We’ll see.

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