Massachusetts advocate: Let young people market baby safe havens
Ask teenagers if they know what a baby safe haven is and their response likely will be "No."
A Massachusetts group says while safe haven laws across the country are well-written -- including the one in Illinois -- most are not properly marketed. The problem, a group leader says, is the folks promoting the law often are in their 50s or older and simply don't know how to reach young people.
"None of the laws are the problem. It's the marketing. It's 100 percent the marketing," said Baby Safe Haven New England co-founder Mike Morrisey.
But Dawn Geras, founder of the Chicago-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, said the lack of awareness is more of a community problem that everyone can help solve.
"There are a lot of ways people can help to get the information out there," she said. "We just need people to take action so they can share this."
Geras suggests people start by contacting their schools and asking if baby safe havens are discussed in health classes.
"We amended the law so it is now required teaching in comprehensive health, grades six through 12," she said. "Sadly, I don't think most schools are in compliance."
Geras also urged people to spread the word about safe havens through library and coffee shop pinboards, church bulletins and work newsletters.
"We have a little tag line: 'Talk about it. Tell a friend. You might save a life,'" she said. "People aren't talking about it. The only time they're talking about it is when there is a dead baby."
But founders of Baby Safe Haven New England said they take a different and more effective approach by recruiting young people to spread the word.
Morrisey said after safe haven laws were passed in every state, many from 2000 to 2008, the people who worked on drafting them were tasked with promoting them.
Morrisey, who has a background in radio, said instead of trying to get people half his age to listen to him, he focused on finding people who fell in the 12- to 34-year-old age group -- the demographic that the laws primarily serve -- to be the face of his organization.
"The problem is, all these other people who passed the laws had no marketing background, no media background," he said. "As they took ownership, they became the voices, the faces, the iconic figure of the safe haven law in their region."
Now, 12 to 15 years later, those leaders are mostly 55 to 70 years old.
"In some cases there is a 50-plus age difference," Morrisey said. "You cannot bridge that communication gap. In Massachusetts we're not afraid to bring out a 15-year-old as the visage of the safe haven law."
Young spokespeople from Baby Safe Haven New England regularly appear on high school, college and regional radio stations, particularly those playing musical genres that appeal to teens, to talk about the baby safe havens. They also speak on behalf of the organization when asked to be part of a TV news segment about abandoned babies and appear at community events to raise awareness.
"It has to be ongoing, constant," Morrisey said.
Having teens reach out to their peers appears to be a factor in the state's success. Morrisey said Massachusetts has had only one illegal infant abandonment in the past six years, and only one fatal abandonment in the past nine years.
Morrisey said he has reached out to other safe haven advocacy groups, urging them to consider his marketing approach, but he has met with resistance.
Geras acknowledges that Illinois' illegal abandonment number -- 79 in 15 years -- remains close to the 114 babies brought to safe havens in the same time period. She said she believes, however, that her organization has made great strides, especially since the number of illegal abandonments outpaced legal abandonments until 2005.
But awareness, she said, just isn't coming fast enough.
"If judgment be put somewhere, I guess I accept part of that because maybe the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation hasn't been doing as much as we could have and should have done," she said. "It's depressing and heartbreaking to me, feeling that there was a mother I didn't reach."