Advocates to troubled parents: Please drop off babies at safe havens
Child advocates are urging parents considering abandoning their newborns to instead bring them to one of many baby safe havens across the state -- no questions asked.
The plea comes one day after a baby was found dead along a road near Wheaton, triggering a large-scale police search for the mother.
Illinois adopted its Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act in 2001. The law says any unharmed newborn up to 30 days old may be handed to a staff member at any hospital, emergency medical care facility, police station or fire station with no explanation required.
"You can remain anonymous. You don't have to answer any questions. You can move on with your life," said Dawn Geras, founder of the Chicago-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation.
Every safe haven location -- which now also includes college and university police stations -- is required by law to have a sign outside designating it as a place where babies can be legally relinquished.
A parent who leaves a newborn at a safe haven is offered, but not required to accept, an information packet that summarizes the law, explains birth parent rights and provides postpartum health care resources. Parents also have the option to fill out a form that asks for basic background information on the child.
Parents are at risk of prosecution only if the infant shows signs of abuse or neglect.
When a baby is given to police or fire personnel, the baby is immediately taken to a hospital for a physical exam. More often than not, Geras said, the baby is healthy.
The hospital notifies the Department of Children and Family Services, which takes custody of the baby and reaches out to adoption agencies that have families waiting for a child.
Wheaton-based Evangelical Child & Family Services is among 11 Illinois adoption agencies assigned to place safe haven babies in adoptive homes.
Barbara Hellmer, adoption program supervisor, said emotionally distressed parents who feel they have no option but to abandon their baby can rest assured the child will be loved and cared for if the baby is brought to a safe haven.
"Every referral we have received has turned out to be a successful adoption," she said. "I would like people to know this law, when it works correctly, it works well. We have families who have a strong desire to parent and would love to have that opportunity. For us, it has been a very positive experience."
The biological parents have 60 days from the date the child is relinquished to petition in court for custody of the baby.
Geras said parents who bring their children to a safe haven are sometimes so deeply comforted by the resources provided to them that they change their minds about abandoning the babies or move forward with a traditional adoption plan.
"Everyone (at a safe haven) is kind and responsive and supportive to the parents," Hellmer said. "Instead of them taking a panic course and possibly killing the baby, (the parents are) doing a loving thing by placing their baby in the safe arms of somebody at the hospital or the fire station or the police station."
Anyone seeking confidential information or help to legally turn over their child can call (888) 510-2229 or visit saveabandonedbabies.org.