The program allows birth parents to turn over a baby without fear of prosecution.
By SHERRI L. SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- National headlines have told the stories of babies abandoned everywhere from shopping malls to emergency rooms, and some of those stories come from Ohio.
To combat the problem, 16 states, including Ohio, enacted legislation providing for the safe abandonment of newborns. A statewide program, called Safe Havens for Newborns, has been in effect since April 2001, and some area hospitals have customized their policies to be in sync.
Safe Havens for Newborns was established through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' Office of Children and Families in Columbus. The program allows birth parents to turn over a baby without fear of prosecution.
According to the policy, a birth parent may legally leave an unharmed infant up to 72 hours old with a medical worker at a hospital or fire department or a police officer. No identification is required, but the parent can complete a voluntary medical history form, which could help determine medical treatment and speed up foster care placement and adoption of the child.
"Not everyone who is pregnant is ready to handle a child," said Cathy Tolbert, director of nursing at St. Joseph Health Center in Warren.
Tolbert said after the legislation was passed, she and representatives from several agencies and hospitals throughout the area worked to develop a local policy to handle such incidents. Though the program has not been used yet, she said, workers are well-trained on what to do if it is.
"Everyone is trained on how to handle that type of situation," she said. "The child would be taken to the closest emergency room and admitted. Then, the staff would work with Children's Services and work on getting foster care for the infant."
While Safe Havens for Newborns is a statewide program, much of the responsibility for handling such incidents falls to the county and community level, explained Dennis Evans, a spokesman for ODJFS in Columbus.
"We are working with all of the counties in Ohio to distribute information about the program, and awareness is growing," he said. "When the law was enacted, there was no mandate given to advertise, and no budget was created to distribute information."
ODJFS has created a brochure about the program, which is available to any county agency that may come in contact with individuals likely to need the program.
Tolbert said St. Joseph's and other hospitals, including St. Elizabeth's Health Center and the Forum Health hospitals in the area, worked to create their own brochures, but after the state law went into effect and ODJFS printed brochures, local changes were made.
"We didn't want to confuse our workers or the public," she said. "So we changed the name of our program to Safe Havens for Newborns and are distributing their brochures."
The pamphlets tell where infants can be left and explain that if the child is unharmed and dropped off with no signs of physical abuse, the authorities will not be called. It also provides numbers for birth parents to call for additional resources.
XFor more information on the program, call ODJFS at (614) 466-9274 or the Help Me Grow Helpline at (800) 755-4769.