HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They say information is power – but could it have kept a young mother from allegedly abandoning her newborn, then lying to police? Hawai'i once had a strong safety net to help pregnant women, but officials say those programs have been weakened by budget cuts and bureaucracy. They say there are resources to help young mothers in crisis, but they just may not know about them.
"There are a lot of resources out there, but we probably don't have enough mechanisms to get that information out to them, and that's what we need to do," said Danette Wong Tomiyasu, Division Chief with Family Health Services of the Department of Health.
Tomiyasu says a mother-to-be's first access to the help they need traditionally starts with their pre-natal care. For many, it's their primary source of information, but women without health insurance may not know they can get access to pre-natal care at low or no cost through community health centers located across the state. As a result, they miss out on opportunities to receive pamphlets that list the services that are available to them through each stage of their pregnancy, delivery and the early childhood years. Fortunately, Tomiyasu says there is a resource every parent can utilize, and it's just a phone call away."
"The parent line is available for information, for some counseling, for referrals, for whatever they might need – from domestic violence to substance abuse treatment to family support services," explained Tomiyasu.
In addition to providing assistance through pre-natal care, babies born into high-risk families used to be identified at delivery—but funding cuts have eliminated initiatives, like Healthy Start, which used to screen and track them.
"Soon after that screening process a home visitor would come to your home and begin to talk with you about concerns, how to take care of the newborn, what kinds of things did you hope to have but you weren't able to afford to have in your home, immunizations, diet, sleep habits – there were a lot of services through Healthy Start," described Haaheo Mansfield, the Senior Vice President of Programs at Parents and Children Together (PACT).
The Healthy Start program was so successful it has served as a model nationwide, but deep budget cuts reduced the initiative's size and scope to the point it's no longer available statewide.
"When the economy went south many of the programs that provided services to families had to be closed," explained Mansfield.
In 2007, Representative John Mizuno authored and helped pass the "Baby Safe Haven" law. It offers protection from prosecution for anyone who surrenders an unharmed newborn within 72 hours of the child's birth at a hospital, fire station, police station, or with emergency medical service personnel. In the 6 years since the law has gone into effect, no one has ever used it. Representative Mizuno believes it's because people are not aware. Across the state, there are no signs posted at hospitals, police stations or fire stations informing people about it.
"If we can get the word out people can understand this law exists it's on the books – if they're in a tough situation and they're just not thinking with clarity – they have a safe option," said Rep. Mizuno.
Generic versions of the signs exist – and several are sitting in Mizuno's office – but the Representative blames red tape and a lack of understanding for why they haven't gone up.
"We've been in contact with a few hospitals and their board just didn't want to allow us to put the signs up near their emergency rooms – and again with police and fire stations we have to go to the County and make sure they're good with that – there's a lot of red tape, who would've thought?" explained Rep. Mizuno.
Health officials say Dramatic cuts to social service and health initiatives have made it far more difficult for people to get access to the help they need -- or to even find out what programs are out there. They say it doesn't matter what programs are in place to help, if people don't know about them.
"This is sort of an alarm for others to see that we do need a program that will be more accessible to families more accessible to parents who just don't know what to do – our families who are in need but don't know who to contact," said Sabrina Tran, the Assistant Program Director for Early Intervention and Family Strengthening programs with PACT.
- 24 hour Crisis Intervention Hotline ~ Oahu: 808-841-0822
- 24 hour Crisis Intervention Hotline ~ East Hawaii (Big Island): 808-959-8864
- 24 hour Crisis Intervention Hotline ~ West Hawaii (Big Island): 808-322-7233
- 24 hour Crisis Mobile Outreach "ACCESS LINE" on Big Island & Kauai only: 1-800-753-6879
ACCESS Line is provided by the Department of Health/Adult Mental Health.
If someone calls any of the above numbers, day or night, someone will answer to help callers navigate through a crisis.
Note: Most calls are for Domestic Violence help, however, our call screeners "walk" callers through any issue and offer referral sources for things that are not related to domestic violence or to other CFS programs.
- Parent Line (M-F 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sat: 9 – 1):
Oahu 808-526-1222 OR
Neighbor Island: Toll-free 1-800-816-1222
Funded by the Department of Health, this hotline is available to callers statewide.
Screeners help with parenting issues; advice; and resources.
If someone calls about any crisis during the hours of operation, our screeners help direct callers to resources that can help them with their crisis.
Our call screeners are well versed with the "Safe Haven Law" to help callers who may be considering this option for their babies.
- Hawaii International Child is an affiliate of Child & Family Service which offers adoption services
M - Thurs: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.