Wednesday, April 04, 2001

Butler offers drop-offs for newborns

'Secret, Safe Place' uses new law

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County has developed a program to discourage parents of unwanted newborns from dumping their babies in the trash.

        If parents relinquish unharmed babies within three days of birth to emergency room personnel, police or paramedics, they won't be charged with abandonment or neglect.

        Butler County's program, called Secret, Safe Place for Newborns, was formed to take advantage of Ohio's newborn drop-off law, which took effect in January.

        Butler County's children services agency, hospitals, law enforcement units and prosecutor's office worked together to create the program.

        “We've all seen too many cases of babies being found in trash cans or Dumpsters,” Prosecutor Robin Piper said. “A lot of times it's young, unwed mothers who had undetected pregnancies and didn't want the baby.”

        Agencies involved in the program are holding a press conference Thursday to publicize it. The program will use the United Way help-line, 1-877-502-3446.

        “We have to educate the public that this is an option,” said Bob Walker, spokesman for Butler County Children Services.

        Butler and other counties in the Tristate began planning newborn drop-off programs last year, before the state law was approved. Last August, Hamilton County started its program, also called Secret, Safe Place for Newborns. Since then, one newborn has been dropped off at a Hamilton County hospital.

        Butler's program is modeled after Hamilton County's.

        When babies are dropped off, they will be examined at a hospital to determine that they have not been harmed.

        The parents will not be required to give their names and addresses. They will be asked to fill out a medical history as an aid in the future care of the children.

        Once medical personnel determine the children are healthy, they will be placed in temporary foster care by Children Services.

        After juvenile court declares the babies abandoned, Children Services will place them up for adoption. County probate court will handle adoption proceedings.

        Butler County hospitals have been training all employees in the policies and procedures for handling newborns who are dropped off. Obstetrics and emergency room personnel have received the most training.

        “All of our employees know what to do and what not to do if someone should come up to them with a baby,” said Debby King, nurse manager of the obstetrics department at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford.

        Supervisors in Butler County Sheriff's Department have received instructions about what they should do if someone drops off a baby at one of their offices.

        “Our biggest concern is the safety of the child,” Chief Deputy Rick Jones said. “It's a great program. It gives mothers the opportunity to drop off unwanted newborns without embarrassment or fear.”

        An especially horrific case of newborn abandonment occurred in Butler County in 1999.

        A 20-year-old Wayne Township woman gave birth to a girl in the basement of her parents' home. She placed the baby in a plastic trash bag and tied it shut. A trash truck driver noticed the baby's body.

        Children Services has prepared brochures about the newborn drop-off program that will be distributed throughout the county. Schools will be one of the publicity campaign's biggest targets.

        “Most of these mothers (in newborn abandonment cases) are high-school age,” Mr. Jones said. “We have to get the word out to where the young mothers are.”


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