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State seeks parents of abandoned baby

A newborn boy, abandoned at a church in Federal Way last week, is in temporary custody of the state while authorities seek his parents.

Around 3:30 p.m. July 2, Federal Way resident Sherry Ricks, who works at Space Age Daycare in Calvary Lutheran Church, 2415 S. 320th St. in Federal Way, stepped outside to grab snacks for the children.

Resting in front of the church's doors, Ricks noticed a small basket. Upon further investigation, she realized her years of joking with her grown children about wishing to discover an infant on her doorstep had been met with a newborn baby boy — umbilical cord still attached.

Ricks was surprised and a little shocked.

"He was totally cleaned up and absolutely beautiful," Ricks said.

A hand-written note and a white blanket accompanied the infant. The note, written in blue ink on a yellow sheet of paper, indicated the newborn's name was Jayden. The note said Jayden's mother felt she was too young to care for him, and wished for the blanket to be kept with him as a family heirloom, Ricks said.

The date indicating the infant's date of birth appeared to have been left blank and later filled in, as though it was written before the baby was born, Ricks said.

Ricks would have loved to keep baby Jayden. He was calm, well-behaved and appeared healthy, she said.

But she called the police, and within minutes they arrived to take the baby away. Paramedics told Ricks the infant was only a few hours old.

Custody issues

Now the state, through the Department of Social and Health Services, has temporary custody of Jayden. DSHS's first priority in an abandonment case is to try to reunite the infant with its family, spokeswoman Karen Lee said.

Because he was left at a church, and not at a hospital or fire station, authorities must attempt to find his parents, said Sharon Gilbert, Deputy Director for Field Operations in Children's Administration of DSHS.

According to the Safety of Newborn Children Law, hospitals and fire stations are the only places a parent can legally leave a newborn within 72 hours of its birth if the parent does not feel capable of caring for it, Gilbert said.

For Jayden, it could be at least a few months before he is placed in a home, whether that be his parents' home or that of a foster parent. Local authorities must make a diligent effort to locate both the infant's parents, Gilbert said.

If his parents are found, there is no guarantee he will be returned to them, she said. The DSHS would first have to assess Jayden's mother and father to determine if they are qualified to provide adequate parenting to the child, Gilbert said.

"We would have to feel there would be sustainable safety (in the home) for that child," Lee said.

The parents could also choose to relinquish their parental rights, Gilbert said. However, both parents must do this if the child is to be placed in a foster home.

If neither of the parents nor any relatives willing to care for the infant have been located within three months, the infant will begin the dependency process, Lee said.

Through this process, Jayden could become a ward of the state. The parents' rights could be terminated, and the infant could become legally eligible to be placed in a foster home, Gilbert said.

Rarely are authorities unable to locate a parent or family member, Gilbert said. Usually, this is only the case if the mother's family is unaware that she has given birth, Gilbert said.

No leads so far

If authorities are able to locate Jayden's mother, she could face prosecution. Although the infant was found, abandonment is still considered child abuse, Gilbert said.

Federal Way police detectives have been assigned to the case. There are no leads so far, said Commander Steve Arbuthnot. Police wish to locate Jayden's mother only to assure she is in good health and receives post-natal care, he said.

Police are not too concerned with charging the mother for child abandonment since she indicated in her note that she believed leaving Jayden at a daycare facility was legal, he said. The infant was in good health and was fed, bathed and wrapped up, he said.

Ricks feels Jayden's mother should not be prosecuted. The newborn was left in a place where he was found and cared for, Ricks said.

The church is surrounded by trees, and for all anybody knows, the mother could have been standing by — making sure her son was found, Ricks said.

"It makes you wonder if she was watching from somewhere to see if he was brought in," Ricks said.

Contact Jacinda Howard at jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To report any information in Jayden's case, call the Federal Way police at (253) 835-6700. For more information on the Safety of Newborn Children Law, visit the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Children's Administration Web site at www1.dshs.wa.gov/ca/safety/sfAbandon.asp?1.

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