November 28, 2014

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Safe Haven law aided three babies in county

A six-year-old law meant to protect babies has potentially saved three lives in Lorain County.

That’s the number of infants safely surrendered in the county through the state’s Safe Haven program since 2001, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

One infant was surrendered in 2001 and another two were surrendered in  2007.

The program, which is designed to allow birth parents the option of surrendering their newborn without fear of prosecution, has been deemed a success statewide.

A total of 54 newborn babies, including 11 this year in Cuyahoga, Lucas, Lorain, Summit and Wayne counties have been safely surrendered. The figure is based on a recent survey of Ohio’s public children service agencies.

“Ohio’s Safe Havens law is designed to protect babies who are unable to protect themselves,” ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley said. “The law provides parents with an alternative to abandoning newborns in unsafe places.”

The 1999 case of an abandoned newborn boy whose body was found by a recreational diver in a water-filled Columbia Township quarry is an example of a situation the Safe Haven program was intended to prevent. The baby, who came to be known as Baby Boy

Hope, was the son of Jessica Coleman, whose identity remained unknown to authorities until she confessed to a friend.

Coleman, who had concealed her pregnancy from family and friends, was subsequently charged with killing the baby in 2005, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in 2006.

The concealment of a woman’s pregnancy is more common than people may think, said Beth Brindo, supervisor in adoptions and
foster care at Bellefaire JCB, a licensed private adoption agency.

However, as the Ohio law is written, the only agency that can intercede in abandonment cases is a public agency such as Lorain County Children Services. Still, Brindo said she has counseled pregnant females as young as 11 and as old as 40, who all have one thing in common.

“These women are in crisis and feel like there is no way out,” Brindo said. “People in normal situations don’t conceal their pregnancies. Delivering a child and deciding you are not going to take that baby home is a crisis.”

However, Safe Haven offers a way out, said Patti-Jo Burtnett, spokeswoman for Lorain County Children Services.

“As long as the parents follow the strict perimeters of the law, they do not face prosecution and most children are adopted into families,” she said.

Under the Safe Haven law, a parent may deliver their unharmed newborn who is not more than 72 hours old to a medical worker at a hospital; to a peace officer at a law enforcement agency; or at an emergency service organization. Parents are not required to provide any personal information but are asked to voluntarily fill out a medical history questionnaire.

Once a baby has been received by a provider, Burtnett said Children Services is contacted, and the agency begins looking for an adoptive family.

Burtnett could not comment on the welfare of the three children surrendered in Lorain County.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.