Ashland says it's ready to handle abandoned babies

Ashland's emergency services community knows what to do if someone can't keep a newborn baby.

A baby girl abandoned in a toilet on Valentine's Day in St. Helens made headlines across the Northwest. Oregon has a law that allows either birth parent to give up a newborn with no consequences, and the city's firefighters, police and hospital staff all know how to proceed if someone wants to give up their baby.

The 2001 law allows the father or mother to leave a newborn at a hospital, doctor's office, birth center, police station, sheriff's office or fire department. If the infant is no more than 30 days old and shows no signs of abuse, there will be no legal consequences for giving it up, but the St. Helens incident seems to show many people still don't know about the law, said Karla Carlson, an intake supervisor at the Department of Human Services child welfare unit in Medford.

"We've had cases where teenagers were somehow able to hide their pregnancies, and in one instance, (a girl) had a baby on a bedroom floor," she said. "It's these scary situations when women are in desperate situations that can end very tragically — like babies being tossed into trash cans and dying."

The St. Helens baby survived.

Carlson said the law allows people to take the baby to a safe place and hand it over to authorities without fear of being charged with abandonment.

"In the long run, this law is better for everyone compared to the alternative," she said. "We would encourage people go this route rather than doing something desperate."

The Ashland Fire and Rescue Department is ready if the situation ever occurs, Capt. Scott Hollingsworth said.

"We receive training once a year on how to handle this," he said. "Everyone here knows where the paperwork is. We would try to get as much background as possible, such as medical and genetic information. But we've been taught not to push it."

The Ashland Police Department is also prepared to accept a child under the safe haven law, Deputy Chief Rich Walsh said.

Ashland Community Hospital workers also are trained to handle safe haven cases, said Lorraine Florio, manager of the ACH Birth Center.

"What it means is that someone can walk in and give you their baby and there are no questions asked. Of course, if there are signs of trauma or abuse we're required to report it," Florio said. "They can come to the emergency room and do the same thing."

She said no one has brought a baby to the hospital to give it up.

Hospital staff refrain from asking a barrage of questions. A woman who feels she is in such a desperate situation that she is willing to abandon her child is encouraged instead to simply hand it to hospital staff. The process is supposed to be anonymous," Florio said. "We're just supposed to be a safe haven."

Hospital departments collaborate with one other under such circumstances and also involve county social service departments and adoption agencies. Florio said that DHS will not operate under criminal guidelines in such matters, but rather help to provide a safe place for the child. Hospital staff advise law enforcement only when there are signs of abuse.

"We're not law enforcement," Florio said. "Babies have been left on the doorsteps of hospitals in other places, and this idea is to give the child a safe place to be."

Parents who drop off their infants are given a packet of information. The "Letter to Birth Parents" explains that the child will eventually be available for adoption, and provides a phone number to contact if the parent has a change of heart.

For more information on Oregon's law, visit the Web site at:

Michele Mihalovich is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 x226 or e-mail:

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