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Baby abandoned at Grand Forks fire station

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A baby girl abandoned outside a Grand Forks fire station this weekend is now likely in the custody of social services and maybe already in a foster family's home, social service experts said.

Nothing officially can be said about an individual case, but typically in such cases a doctor can order an infant to be held as long as 96 hours in a hospital for care and to sort things out. In this case, because nothing is known about the baby's parents or circumstances, the county's social services department would take charge, getting a court order to take the child into custody, said Tara Muhlhauser, director of the children and family services division of the state Department of Human Services.

The girl was found about 7:35 a.m. Saturday morning wrapped in a towel inside a cardboard box. The man who left her made sure he made enough noise to attract attention, although he left the scene without speaking to anyone.

After giving the baby some initial care, including oxygen and warm towels, firefighters turned her over to an ambulance crew that took her to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks within minutes of her being discovered.

A nursing supervisor said Sunday the baby was in good condition but could not release any other information about her.

Only one baby has been left at a "safe haven" in North Dakota since the law was passed in 2001, Muhlhauser said.

The law, similar to safe haven laws in several other states, allows parents or "agents" to leave a child at a designated place without being prosecuted for child abandonment or negligence. In North Dakota, only hospitals are designated safe havens. A child 1 year old or younger can be left with authorities at a hospital, and the parent or agent is not required to give any information.

Minnesota allows babies only within a few days of birth to be dropped off at safe havens, and its law has been used extensively, Muhlhauser said. Nebraska recently amended its safe haven law that allowed parents to drop off even teenage children.

Some states also include as safe havens fire stations, which typically are manned 24 hours a day with people trained in emergency medical care.

The man who left the baby girl was perhaps familiar with safe haven rules in other states that include fire stations, Muhlhauser said.

Lt. Rahn Farder of the Grand Forks Police Department said several leads have come in about the baby but nothing that turned up any real information.

Because of the circumstances of the baby's abandonment, the man who apparently left her, and/or the baby's parents or other custodial adults could face charges.

Although many people in several states have indicated -- to the Herald and to social services officials -- interest in adopting this baby girl, social services will use its network of foster families and others licensed and ready for adoption in the state, Muhlhauser said.

Anyone with information about the baby left at the fire station Saturday can call Grand Forks County Social Services at (701) 787-8500 or the Grand Forks police at (701) 746-2500.