‘Don’t Panic’: Chicago Officials Hope to Save Lives With Safe Haven Law

by Matt Masterson, WTTW News

“You’re afraid. You can’t keep this baby,” the pamphlet begins. “You just want someone to take it, keep it safe, and make sure it gets a good home.

“Don’t panic,” it continues. “There are people who will help you with NO QUESTIONS ASKED.” More

That’s the message offered to Illinois parents in crisis who are considering giving up their newborn infant under the state’s safe haven law, which requires police, fire and medical facilities to accept healthy newborns under 30 days old who are turned over anonymously by their parents.

As April – known in Illinois as “Save Abandoned Babies Month” – draws to a close, the Chicago police and fire departments met with some of the children who have benefited from this law, along with their adoptive families, to help raise awareness and prevent parents from abandoning children in unsafe places.

“If there is any parent who is feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders,” CFD Commissioner Jose Santiago said, “the Chicago Fire Department will be here when you need us, and no baby will ever be turned away.”

Passed in 2001, the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act prevents parents from being prosecuted for legally relinquishing their children. It also grants temporary guardianship of abandoned children to the hospital until they are moved to a child-placing agency or the Department of Public Health.

The parents are offered an information pamphlet containing a summary of the law and additional resources, but they cannot be arrested.

Illinois adoption agencies must wait 60 days before moving to terminate the birth parents’ custodial rights, during which time the babies are cared for by a prospective adoption family. If the birth parents don’t petition for custody during that period, their parental rights are permanently dismissed and the child can be adopted.

Illinois parents who are known to have relinquished their children have ranged in age from 13 to 41 years old, according to Dawn Geras, president of the Illinois-based Save Abandoned Babies Foundation who said the parents are most frequently between the ages of 18 and 24. About half of these infants have been white, while about 6 percent are black. Over the same time, more than 80 illegally abandoned babies have been found in the state – those not turned in to police, fire or health officials. Of those, Geras said only about half survived.

CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his department will be distributing thousands of information cards across the city, detailing the law in hopes of expanding community awareness.

“Once you know about the safe haven law, talk about it,” he said. “You might just save a life, and as we know, there’s nothing more precious than the gift of life.”

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