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Published: Friday, 3/30/2001

`Save baby' is top priority of new state law

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Dozens of Lucas County counselors, health-care professionals, police officers, and social workers got their first formal training yesterday about what to do if newborns are relinquished by their parents under Ohio's new “abandoned baby” law.

In short: make the newborns safe, transport them to a hospital, ask no questions of the parents, and notify the prosecutor's office and children's services.

“Save the baby, that's the important thing,” Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said. “The alternative is somebody might harm this baby, and we don't want that.”

Effective next Friday, the legislation allows parents of children 72 hours or younger, who are not abused or neglected, to anonymously hand over the newborns to police officers, emergency medical services workers, or hospital employees without facing charges of child abandonment.

If the children are unharmed, there's no prosecution, and the babies are taken into Lucas County Children Services custody and adopted.

“We're not going to ask any questions of the mother as to who she is. We're not going to interrogate her or interview her,” said John Tharp, a spokesman for the Lucas County sheriff's office. “We're going to be sensitive about this because we want to encourage anyone who has a newborn to bring that baby forward. We just want to protect that child.”

More than 100 people gathered at Toledo Hospital yesterday to hear an overview of the legislation and an outline of the protocols developed by a task force of police administrators, prosecutors, fire department and hospital officials, and children services representatives.

Hospitals and police agencies plan their own programs to educate more employees about the law.

“I want you [in the audience] to get the word out so that young women in this community know about this,” said Kleia Luckner, Toledo Hospital's administrative director for women's services.

Kathirine Gaudet, a caseworker at the Friendly Center in North Toledo, said she'll share what she learned yesterday with seven other employees, who then will provide information about the law to their dozens of clients.

“The whole thing is just kind of incredible right now,” she said, adding she supports the legislation.

When - and if - any parents turn over newborns, the officials receiving them will try and provide information about counseling services and ask the parents to anonymously fill out a medical history for the baby.

“I think it's important that we try to get medical histories,” said Dean Sparks, executive director of Lucas County Children Services. “I'm required to provide as much information possible to anybody who wants to adopt the child.”



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