Washington Fire Department a safe haven

Jeanette Kendall and Donelle Pardee Whiting

About 100 babies were abandoned in Illinois from 1997 to 1999. Usually, these babies are left during the first 24 hours of their lives. Some are found; others die.

The Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a not-for-profit volunteer group in Illinois, provided these grim statistics on its Web site, www.saveabandonedbabies.org.

“Our grassroots effort began in March of 2000 when one of our members read a newspaper article about a baby found in a Chicago dumpster. We quickly learned that other states were addressing this horrible and growing problem with ‘safe haven laws,’” a member said on the Web site.

“The Save Abandoned Babies volunteers drafted a safe haven law and lobbied for its passage. The Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act unanimously passed both the Illinois House and Senate and was signed into Illinois law in August 2001,” the Web site states.  

The Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act allows a parent to anonymously relinquish her or his newborn infant to the care and custody of a safe haven. They are also provided immunity from prosecution as long as the newborn (seven days old or younger) is unharmed.

Safe havens include hospitals and all fire departments within Illinois that are staffed by at least one full-time emergency medical professional. The Washington Fire Department is a safe haven. Asst. Chief-EMS Jai Windish said although Washington’s fire station does not yet have a sign, he has already started the process of getting one from the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation.

“We just need to make a good will donation (to the organization),” Windish added.

Windish said the program was implemented at no cost to the fire department.

Windish also said that firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians did not have to receive any additional training other than their medical training. But, there is a certain protocol that must be followed.

• accept and provide all necessary emergency services and care to a relinquished newborn infant;

• arrange for the transportation of a relinquished infant to the nearest hospital as soon as possible;

• inform the parent(s) of the name and location of the hospital to which the infant was transported, if the parent returns to the fire station within 72 hours after relinquishing the infant;

• allow the relinquishing parent to remain anonymous and to leave the fire station without being pursued provided that the infant shows no sign of abuse or neglect;

• tell the parent that by relinquishing the child anonymously, he/she will have to petition the court if he/she wants to prevent the termination of parental rights and retain custody;

• attempt to offer the parent(s) an information packet containing prescribed materials; and

• make a report to the state within 12 hours of accepting a relinquished newborn.

East Peoria Fire Chief Mike Vaughn said if there are any signs of abuse “it’s a whole new ballgame.”

“It’s kind of scary ... how many babies are being dropped off in the Chicago area,” Vaughn said, adding that Chicago has had a decline in abandoned infant deaths since the new law took effect.

Windish said, to his knowledge, there have not been any babies left at the Washington Fire Department.

According to the Save Abandoned Babies Web site, while lobbying efforts were underway in 2001, five newborns were abandoned unsafely and two died.

In 2002, eight babies were illegally abandoned. Of those eight, four died. Two babies were safely and legally relinquished under the act in 2002.

In 2003, the governor proclaimed April 4 as Save Abandoned Babies Day. That year, seven babies were illegally abandoned, and five died. Three babies were safely and legally relinquished.

In 2004, 11 babies were illegally abandoned; five died. Six babies were safely and legally relinquished.

In 2005, 12 babies were illegally abandoned; five died. Nine babies were safely and legally relinquished.

In 2006, the Abandoned Newborn Protection Act was amended to allow the relinquishment of infants up to seven days old. This year, four babies were illegally abandoned, two of them were found dead, and seven were legally relinquished.

Through November 2007, there were 10 safe and legal relinquishments in Illinois. Legislation signed by the governor Aug. 17, 2007, mandated a uniform Safe Haven sign to be displayed at all designated Safe Havens statewide.

For more information, call 312-440-0229. Parents who need immediate help may call 888-510-BABY (2229).

“If people know there are no repercussions, hopefully, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to a fire station to hand off their baby. They know it’s safe,” Vaughn said.