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Safe haven procedure not used in Bellville abandoned baby case
BY LOU WHITMIRE
Mansfield News Journal
MANSFIELD -- There is a right way to abandon a baby in Ohio.
That procedure was not followed on Tuesday night outside the First Baptist Church of Bellville when a newborn girl was left in a storage container in unseasonably cool conditions. The child was only a few hours old and had its umbilical cord still attached.
"The mother could be charged with possible child endangering," Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon said.
Under Ohio law, a parent who abandons a baby is protected from prosecution if he or she voluntarily delivers a child who is not more than 72 hours old to an emergency medical service worker, peace officer or hospital employee. If the infant hasn't been abused and is left with a person at one of these places there are no legal consequences. The birth parent is not required to provide any information, including his or her name, and no questions will be asked.
However, authorities said it would be in the interest of the baby to provide basic health information, and a form is available at those safe havens.
"(The law) really is created for those people who are aren't prepared to raise a baby and have not made alternative plans," said Karen Collins, licensed social worker at MedCentral health System. "It can be anybody in the hospital. They could come into the hospital, which is a safe place and the hospital employee could get the baby help."
Legal protection applies only to the child's parents.
"I think medical people and law enforcement people know sometimes it is better for a mother to give up her child. We just want it done in the proper, safe way," Sheldon said. "If a mother is having problems and she needs to give up her child, there's a proper way."
Mike Casto, court administrator at Juvenile Division of the Richland County Common Pleas Court, said if the birth mother is a juvenile she could be charged with being a delinquent child by reason of having committed an offense such as child endangering.
"As someone who works with juveniles on a daily basis, our concerns are with the child but our concerns are also that the mother may not be getting proper medical attention," Casto said. "I would just encourage anyone who has knowledge that the mother is a teenager to report it to authorities so she gets proper medical care."
Mifflin Township Fire Chief Mike Clinage said everyone at the department is aware of the Safe Haven's for Newborns law, which became effective April 6, 2001.
"Information is displayed in the dispatcher room at both stations," he said.
"I have been on a childbirth call.
"There have been other deliveries by guys in the department."
Gregory Kahl, communications supervisor, Richland County Children Services, said the baby left outside the church remained in good condition at MedCentral/Mansfield Hospital Thursday.
"We have a foster-to-adopt family and currently are determining our legal options to file for permanent custody of the child," Kahl said. Cindy Biggs, vice president of Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio, said between 95 and 98 percent of Planned Parenthood clients in Richland County have told officials they have been able to prevent unintended pregnancy since becoming a client of planned parenthood.
"Certainly if we can do our part in helping people plan their families we can also help prevent babies from being abandoned," Biggs said.