Local agencies offer safe havens for babies

A newborn baby girl born on Valentine's Day was apparently abandoned by her mother in the toilet of a St. Helens care center, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Workers at the care center were able to resuscitate the baby, but Karla Carlson, an intake supervisor of a DHS Child Welfare unit in Medford, said hearing desperate stories like this cause DHS to encourage parents to take advantage of Oregon's "A Safe Place for Newborns" law.

The law, established in 2001, allows a birth parent (mother or father) to leave a newborn infant at a hospital, doctor's office, birthing center, police station, sheriff's office or fire department.

The law says as long as the infant is no more than 30 days old, handed to someone working there and shows no signs of abuse, there will be no legal consequences for making this choice.

"I don't think many people are aware of this law," said Carlson, adding that she's relatively certain no one in Jackson County has taken advantage of the safe haven law.

"We've had cases where teenagers were somehow able to hide their pregnancies, and in one instance, had a baby on a bedroom floor," she said. "It's these scary situations when women are in desperate situations that it can end very tragically &

like babies being tossed into trash cans and dying."

Carlson said this law allows people to take the baby to a safe place, hand it over to authorities and they won't be charged with abandonment.

"In the long run, this law is better for everyone compared to the alternative," she said. "We would encourage people go this route rather than doing something desperate."

Capt. Scott Hollingsworth with Ashland Fire and Rescue Department said the department is ready if the situation ever presents itself in Ashland.

"We receive training once a year on how to handle this," he said. "Everyone here knows where the paperwork is. We would try to get as much background as possible, such as medical and genetic information. But we've been taught not to push it."

Deputy Chief Rich Walsh of the Ashland Police Department said his staff is also prepared in the event a parent brings in a child under the safe haven law.

The staff of the Ashland Community Hospital receives training on how to handle safe haven cases and also receive an annual review, though no such case has yet occurred at the facility, according to Lorraine Florio, manager of the ACH Birth Center.

"What it means is that someone can walk in and give you their baby and there are no questions asked. Of course, if there are signs of trauma or abuse we're required to report it," Florio said. "They can come to the emergency room and do the same thing."

Hospital staff refrain from asking a barrage of questions. A woman who feels she is in such a desperate situation that she is willing to abandon her child is encouraged instead to simply hand it to hospital staff. The process is supposed to be anonymous," Florios said. "We're just supposed to be a safe haven."

ACH departments collaborate with one other under such circumstances and also involve county social service departments and adoption agencies. Florio cautions that while DHS is one of the departments involved, it will not operate under criminal guidelines in such matters, but rather help to provide a safe place for the child. Hospital staff advise law enforcement only when there are signs of abuse.

"We're not law enforcement," Florio said. "Babies have been left on the doorsteps of hospitals in other places and this idea is to give the child a safe place to be."

ACH delivers about 35 babies a month. Last year the hospital delivered 350 babies.

Parents who drop off their infants are given a packet of information. The "Letter to Birth Parents" explains what will happen to the baby from that point on, such as Child Welfare Services will be contacted and the baby will be placed in foster care. It also explains that the child will be put up for adoption; that if the parent wishes, they can have some say in the child's future; that the information requested is voluntary; and it provides a phone number to contact should the parent change his or her mind.

According to the national safehaven alliance TM in Virginia, only Hawaii and Washington D.C. haven't passed infant abandonment and safe haven legislation. For more information on Oregon's law, go to /DHS/ph/asafeplace/index.shtml.

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 or .

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