As many people have read or seen in news reports, a northeastern Pennsylvania couple was arrested this month on charges of killing their unwanted newborn. While this is an extreme and rare situation, it is important for people to know that the state has a program in place to help people who are unwilling or unable to care for their child to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
The Safe Haven Program provides a safe, confidential option for protecting infants by allowing parents to turn over unwanted babies up to 28 days old to any hospital as an alternative to abandonment. Every hospital in Pennsylvania is a Safe Haven hospital, including Elk Regional Health Center (ERHC), where parents can take a child if they cannot care for it properly.
" If your newborn is younger than 28 days, you can bring your baby to a hospital and we will make sure the baby is safe and healthy. Thatâ€™s all you have to do," said Charlotte Floravit, director of public relations at ERHC. "No one will ask questions. No information is required. If it's a secret, it will stay a secret. Weâ€™re here to provide babies with the care they need-- not to pass judgment.â€ť
According to acting state Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander, the program exists specifically to avoid the type of situation that recently occurred when the newborn was killed, allegedly because her parents feared they couldn't afford to take care of another child.
â€śHad this young couple used their local hospital as a safe haven, this child would still be alive,â€ť Alexander said in a release. â€śIf any parent finds the responsibilities of caring for a newborn to be overwhelming, Safe Haven is there to help the parent and the child.â€ť
Hospitals have signs directing where to go, and some have specially designated bassinets if the parent is not willing or is not able to wait for a hospital employee. Babies may be placed in the care of any hospital staff member, with no questions asked as long as the baby is unharmed and is not a victim of any crime. Parents may volunteer medical information and are encouraged to let staff know if they or the baby have any health problems, but it is not required and they will not be asked for names, addresses or other personal information.
Those who want to speak to someone about the Safe Haven Program or just talk may call the Safe Haven Helpline at 1-866-921-SAFE (7233). All calls are confidential. The program also has a website, www.secretsafe.org, with helpful information. Another option is to call the local Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services at 781-3034.