Methodology for SSB and Abandonment Data Collection

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) collects data for infants that are safely surrendered (infants who do not survive abandonment – “abandoned deceased infants” and those infants who do survive abandonment – “abandoned surviving infants.”) This data is collected by CDSS using the methods below.

Safely Surrendered Babies

CDSS gathers information on safely surrendered babies by conducting quarterly reviews of referrals and cases queried from the Child Welfare Services Case Management System (CWS/CMS) database, which indicate that a child was safely surrendered. Pursuant to the SSB Law, a safely surrendered baby is defined by the following criteria:

  • 72 hours of age or younger, AND
  • voluntarily surrendered by a parent or an individual with lawful custody, AND
  • surrendered to personnel on duty at a designated safe-surrender site.

CDSS reviews these case records to verify that, for each safely surrendered baby, the circumstances and procedures described are consistent with the statutory definitions and requirements of the SSB Law. County Child Welfare Service (CWS) agencies also report safely surrendered babies directly to CDSS by submitting the State of California (SOC) 880 form. This procedure serves as cross-check for data queried from the CWS/CMS database.

Abandoned Deceased Infants

For purposes of monitoring the effectiveness of the SSB Law and tracking the number of abandoned deceased infants, CDSS conducts quarterly reviews of referrals and cases from the CWS/CMS database which indicate parental absence or abandonment of a child one year of age or younger, as well as the death of the child. CDSS also obtains data on abandoned deceased infants from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), and child fatality cases reported to the state pursuant to Senate Bill 39 (Migden, Chapter 468, Statutes of 2007). The data on abandoned deceased infants in this report includes children who meet the following criteria:

  • one year of age or younger, AND
  • killed (e.g., asphyxiated, stabbed, etc.) and abandoned in a public location (e.g., dumpster, alley, rail yard, residence steps, stairwell, ocean, etc.) or a private location (e.g., private residence closet, bathtub, wastebasket, etc.), OR
  • died from abandonment (e.g., dehydration, hyper/hypothermia, etc.) in a public or private location.
Abandoned Surviving Infants

For the purposes of monitoring the effectiveness of the SSB Law and tracking the number of abandoned surviving infants, CDSS conducts quarterly reviews of referrals and cases from the CWS/CMS database which indicate parental absence or abandonment of a child one year of age or younger and the child is still alive. The data on abandoned surviving infants in this report from calendar years (CYs) 2007 to 2013 includes children who meet the following criteria:

  • one year of age or younger, AND
  • abandoned in a public or private location, AND
  • survive the abandonment

Excluded from data collection are the following cases:

  • Infants “abandoned” in the care of persons, even those who are strangers to the parent
  • Infants left in hospitals after birth by mothers who fail to make plans for their care

Note: These infants are excluded because infants left in the care of persons, including strangers or hospital staff, do not reflect the potentially fatal level of risk that the SSB Law was implemented to prevent.

Prior to 2007, CDSS data collection included infants who were abandoned into the care of other persons or left in hospitals by mothers who failed to make plans for their care. For example, CDSS previously included cases in which an infant was left in the care of friends or relatives for an extended period of time without provisions for support, because infants in such cases would be documented in the CWS/CMS database with “abandonment” as an allegation and/or reason for intervention.

During 2008, CDSS convened a multidisciplinary SSB workgroup, which included representatives from CDPH, county CWS agencies, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Project Cuddle from Los Angeles. Through the multidisciplinary workgroup, concerns were raised that tracking data on children “abandoned” into the care of friends or relatives was overly broad and did not allow for monitoring the effectiveness of a law that was implemented to prevent, for example, infants discovered alive in dumpsters or alleyways, infant deaths due to asphyxiation or stabbing prior to abandonment, or infant deaths from exposure and/or malnutrition after being abandoned. Starting with its 2008 review of the prior year’s data (CY 2007), CDSS began analyzing abandonment data under a more refined lens, which excluded infants abandoned into the care of other persons, in order to better identify those fatal and/or potentially fatal child abandonment cases which may have been prevented if the parent or guardian in those cases would have surrendered the infants under the provisions of the SSB Law.