Safe Haven Canada

 Unfortunately we hear from time to time, incidents where unwanted newborns have been discarded shortly after birth and found dead in dumpsters, public washrooms and other such locations. While rare, it happens and in many cases it may be preventable.

A Safe Haven Canada program, allows for the mother of an unwanted newborn, to leave her “unharmed” baby in a safe designated location, anonymously and without consequence.

There is a strong need for Safe Haven in Canada

At present, the Angel’s Cradle program is the only Safe Haven type program operating in Canada. At St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, a special receptacle has been built into the wall of the hospital. There are no security cameras and a mother may drop off her newborn anonymously and without fear of prosecution. There is information which the mother may take with her. An alarm sounds shortly after a baby is placed in the receptacle and the mother has left the area. The alarm alerts nursing staff from the emergency department, who immediately respond to retrieve the baby. Since it opened in May 2010, Angel’s Cradle has received one baby into their program. However in the fall of 2011, another abandoned deceased newborn was found floating on a log-boom in the Fraser River near Vancouver.

One location is not enough. This program is needed at every hospital across Canada.

The intent of Safe Haven Canada programming is two-fold:

1. It is designed to save the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, newborn babies. Infant abandonment is the earliest form of child abuse and is preventable.

2. It is designed to provide a young woman who is herself in a state of crisis, a better option for both her newborn and for herself.

No Safe Haven type laws or programming currently exist in Canada with the exception of the one Vancouver location.

Currently in Canada, if a mother delivers in a hospital and simply walks out without the baby, she will not be prosecuted and the child will be cared for by the provincial Child Protection Agency and placed for adoption. Safe Haven Canada is simply an extension of what already exists, but is anonymous. A woman does not have to enter a hospital or identify herself, in order to surrender her unwanted newborn.

Safe Haven Exists in all U.S. States

In the United States, each state has enacted legislation in support of Safe Haven.  While  statistical information is somewhat difficult in the U.S. due to the variances in each state’s laws, it is estimated that over 1000 newborns have been surrendered to Safe Haven programs in the last ten years.  In New York State in 2012, thirteen infants have been surrendered through Safe Haven. In Florida where Safe Haven legislation was passed in 2000, 183 newborns have been surrendered and 4762 young women have been helped by the program. Who knows what the fate of those babies may have been and how the trauma may have impacted their birth mothers, if not for the existence of the Safe Haven Programs.

A key aspect of Safe Haven Canada, is that a young Mom who gives up her baby, has the right to re-consider her decision. Each state is different in terms of time frames to re-consider, age of infants which will be accepted through the program and other considerations.  The National Safe Haven Alliance, allows you to simply click on a state, to determine the pertinent data related to their individual state programs and legislation.

Similar programs exist in many European countries and other parts of the world.  Safe Haven or Founding Wheel Programs, go back hundreds of years in history.

Is Safe Haven needed in Canada?

In Canada, it is estimated that roughly 3-5 babies per year are “reported” as having been found, abandoned. Some are found dead, some alive.   Of much greater concern is the number “not reported”. We suspect this number is higher in that the babies are never found, and the incident never reported.   An example which clearly illustrates that unreported cases are serious concern occurred in Calgary. In 2010, a mother was charged with abandoning her baby in a dumpster (the baby survived).  Subsequent investigation by police uncovered that this woman had been pregnant on two other occasions and was unable to account for the whereabouts of her two children. Through investigation, she was subsequently charged with two counts of second degree murder. Had a Safe Haven Canada Program been in place, the results may have been very different for both the mother and her children.  This is a prime example of the unreported incidents which are occurring in Canada.

Federal Justice Minister and Attorney General Rob Nicholson, has come out in favour of Safe Haven Canada Programming. His staff reviewed the Criminal Code of Canada to determine if amendments would be required in order to allow for Safe Haven Canada legislation to move forward in each province. Minister Nicholson’s staff has determined that the Criminal Code would not require amendments. This now leaves the issue as a matter of Child Protection and Health Care, which falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Safe Haven Canada is about saving the lives of unwanted newborns, and providing options for young women in a moment of crisis.

The Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness has taken a leadership role in trying to move this issue forward in Canada. We need support from like-minded organizations and individuals who believe as we do – that Safe Haven Canada can make a difference.  We are currently working to encourage provincial ministries responsible for child protection and health, to consider Safe Haven Canada Programming in each province.

How You Can Help

We are seeking letters of support from organizations and individuals who are in agreement that Safe Haven is needed in Canada. We are also asking that individuals and organizations contact their appropriate elected officials at the provincial level, to help raise awareness and encourage implementation of legislation and programming in support of Safe Haven Canada.

A key aspect of implementation is public awareness and education. The Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness is committed to working with provincial governments once legislation and programming is in place, to help educate and create public awareness of this important life-saving initiative.

For further information, please contact:

Mark Allen
Director of Public Safety
Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness