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Published: Saturday, 4/7/2001

Publicizing abandoned infant law a challenge

Lucas County law enforcement and health officials are talking about Ohio's new law that provides immunity to parents who relinquish their unharmed newborns instead of abandoning them.

They hope people with crisis pregnancies are listening.

“It's all well and good for us to tout its importance and its worth, but if it doesn't reach into the hands of these women who need it, it doesn't have any worth,” Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said. “Now that we have the law in effect and know what we're going to do and say, we're going into a discussion about how we're going to publicize this.”

The law, dubbed the “Safe Haven” program, allows parents with babies 3 days old or younger to give them to hospital workers, police officers, or emergency medical services workers. If the children are unharmed, no questions are asked and Lucas County Children Services assumes custody.

Effective yesterday, Ohio's law is similar to measures in 20 other states, including Michigan. Legislatures created the laws in response to an increase in baby abandonments during the last decade.

“Our biggest hope is that women who do get pregnant and carry the baby but don't want to keep the baby have an alternative and seek prenatal care,” Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner, said. “It matters for both healthy mothers and healthy babies.”

Ms. Bates organized a team of representatives from hospitals, law enforcement, courts, social services agencies, and emergency medical services to develop a protocol for babies given up under the law. It includes guidelines for responding to a parent who wants to give up a child. The team also developed materials, including a medical questionnaire about the baby's health history, for the parents.

Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center counselors will be available to discuss the law as well as provide information about other services to pregnant women or women who have delivered.

“We're also very, very interested in the well-being of the mothers of these children,” said Kris Buffington, associate director of the center. “We will still provide the support and confidential counseling and linkages to other resources that they need.”

The next step for Ms. Bates' team is to develop promotional materials, distribute them throughout the community, and continue to publicize the program.

“It would be a wonderful thing if we never had another baby abandoned in this fashion,” Ms. Bates said. “But by the same token, we hope to never prosecute another mother in this situation.”



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