Monday, July 29, 2002

Newborn's death spurs 'haven' alert

By Nathan Leaf
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS - Prompted by the death of a newborn in Dayton, the state is spreading the word that hospitals, police stations and firehouses are legal safe havens for unwanted newborn babies.

        State officials fear some new mothers who don't know about Ohio's Safe Havens for Newborns law may still abandon their children in dangerous or life-threatening situations.

        Passed in April 2001, the law lets mothers leave their babies at hospitals, police and fire stations within the first 72 hours of life with no questions asked and without fear of prosecution.

        These babies are handed over to county children services agencies, which then would place them with adoptive parents.

        On July 17, police in Dayton found the remains of Ruby Melvin's newborn boy in a basement. The 36-year-old mother has since been charged with reckless homicide, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence and is being held in the Montgomery County Jail.

        Montgomery County Children Services spokeswoman Billie Jones said it is unclear if greater public awareness of the law would have prevented this baby's death. Regardless, she said more could have been done to inform mothers about the law.

        “When they passed the law, the legislature didn't allocate any money along with it to promote public awareness,” Ms. Jones said. “We need to keep reminding people but there isn't enough money to sustain ongoing public education for the program.”

        Officials at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services say they don't know how many babies are legally or illegally abandoned in Ohio since the law passed.

        Despite that, the agency wrote in a July press release that public awareness of the law is “one of its greatest challenges.”

        Last week the agency began circulating a new pamphlet and poster describing the law.

        Both describe the law, where new mothers can go, and include a toll free number (800) 755-4769 to call for more information.

        Hamilton County Children Services spokeswoman Laurie Petrie said the program has already produced positive results in the Cincinnati area.

        “We have had three healthy babies brought to us that otherwise may have been left in a gas station and that is wonderful,” Ms. Petrie said. She said she knows of no illegally abandoned babies since the law passed.

        Ms. Petrie said two of the babies have already been placed in adoptive families.

        One baby was brought into custody in Butler County through the Safe Haven law in August 2001, said Children Services spokesman Bob Walker.


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