More education needed about Illinois safe haven

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

Illinois’ safe haven law is not something people hear about all that often.

This is the law that enables a parent safely and anonymously to hand over an unwanted newborn to doctors, nurses, firefighters, police and others, no questions asked.

We don’t hear about safe haven laws that often because abandoned newborns are relatively rare and because the law works — or at least it has 98 times since Illinois implemented it in 2001.

But the incredible discovery of an abandoned newborn, still breathing, inside a Jacksonville trash bin during the Labor Day weekend is a stark reminder that there still are desperate, hopeless and frightened people who seem to have no idea there are options beyond killing or leaving an infant for dead.

In the case of the baby in Jacksonville, what could have been a simple, quiet, risk-free transfer of custody now involves a felony criminal pursuit, an indefinitely delayed adoption process, concerns about the mother’s well being and a community in search of answers.

It appears the baby will survive, thanks to a person who was taking out some trash Aug. 30 hearing noises inside a dumpster and investigating further. Upon discovering the infant, the police were notified and the child, estimated to be less than 12 hours old, was rushed to Passavant Area Hospital.

The odds were not in the newborn’s favor. It was hot — already 76 degrees at 8 a.m. — and the dumpster was in a neighborhood that isn’t particularly busy. Sadly, it was about a block from a police station, which would be considered a safe haven.

In addition, of the now 72 illegal abandonments in Illinois since 2001, 35 babies have survived and 37 have died.

As unthinkable as abandonment may seem, not everyone considers having a baby a joyous occasion. It could be a teenager who feels isolated or afraid of disappointing her parents. For adult women, there may be financial concerns or fear of judgment for bringing more children into the world.

Or it could be a matter of feeling hopeless, alone and having no one to trust or to turn to for help.

Utilizing the state’s safe haven law can make a world of difference not only for the infants, but also for the women who have given birth and for parents who wish to adopt.

“If a baby is relinquished under the safe haven law, that baby has this presumption of permission from the parent by using the law to place the baby immediately into adoption,” said Dawn Geras, president of the Chicago-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a volunteer organization that tracks newborn abandonment and works to educate Illinoisans about the safe haven law.

“So what happens is an adoption agency is called and the baby is immediately — in some cases within 12 hours — in the arms of what will be their forever family. But in this case, because they’re still trying to find the relatives or the family, this baby is in limbo and lost in the system for who knows how long.”

Since Illinois’ safe haven law went into effect, there have been no reports of illegally abandoned infants in Sangamon and surrounding counties. But the event in Jacksonville shows more education about safe haven options is in order. As Geras noted, it’s impossible to know how many infants have been illegally abandoned that have never been discovered.

School districts that don’t provide safe haven education as part of their health and sex education classes are doing a disservice to youth. And elected officials, social workers, health care professionals, public safety officials and others should consider this a wake-up call to spread the word every chance they get.

—GateHouse News Service