Sunday, October 25, 2015

Baby Infects Foster Parents' Household with Syphilis, 1922

From the Rockingham Post-Dispatch, October 19, 1922

Raleigh, Oct. 10—Syphilis does not halt for kind hearts. Infection from this loathsome disease may reasonably be expected as one of the possible results of adoption of children through irregular channels, however well-intentioned the prospective foster-parents may be. This is the opinion of officials of the State Board of Public Welfare who recently have had called to their attention a case in point which occurred in one of the eastern counties, when both foster-mother and wet-nurse contracted syphilis from an infected baby which had been adopted from a deserted and probably immoral mother without authoritative permission.

In all probability such a tragedy would have been avoided, Public Welfare officials say, if legal methods of adoption had been followed. The State law says in regard to this that no child shall be removed from its mother under six months after birth without permission from the clerk of the court and the county health officer. In this case, the law was disregarded. When it was about a month old, the baby developed symptoms of syphilis. By this time, without permission of either the clerk of the court or the county health officer, the child was already in its foster home where it was a source of contagion to the innocent and well-meaning persons. Had the foster parents applied to the proper authorities for permission to adopt this baby, the case would probably have been put into the hands of the county superintendent of public welfare, the logical person to handle it.

The story of what happened instead is sad enough. A man and his wife, both persons of excellent character and standing in their community, had been for a long time very anxious to adopt a baby girls. They were informed by a physician that a young woman patient of his, whose husband had deserted her, was expecting to be confined. Whereupon the man had a lawyer draw up papers of formal surrender of the child, if a girl, which the young woman signed. The doctor had advertised the fact that, because she had been deserted and unable to work, the mother would have to give her child away as soon after birth as possible. But he failed to advertise any suspicions of syphilitic infection which he may have entertained.

Twenty-four hours after its birth, the baby which was, in all appearances, a fine child, had been received into her new home, to the delight of her foster parents who planned to give her every advantage. About a month later, the baby developed symptoms of syphilis. Definite diagnosis came too late to forestall infection of both foster mother and wet-nurse, the former being infected with the disease in a most virulent form.

Naturally, the foster parents no longer wished to keep in their home the child who, though innocently, had brought such foul contamination there. So the baby was resigned to the care of the county superintendent of public welfare—but too late to do anything more than try to find another and probably less fortunate home for the child, after cure has been pronounced. Because of such a history, the placing of this baby will be difficult.

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