Covenant Health opens first newborn safe havens in Alberta
May 6, 2013
Edmonton, Canada – Today Covenant Health officially opened and blessed two newborn safe havens in Edmonton to provide an option for safe abandonment of newborns. The Angel Cradles, which are the first in Alberta, are located by the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and Misericordia Community Hospital Emergency Departments.
“It provides an alternative to help prevent unsafe abandonment, such as leaving a newborn in a trash bin or back alley,” says Gordon Self, Covenant Health’s Vice President of Mission, Ethics and Spirituality. “We were intrigued by the example set by Providence Health Care who opened a newborn safe haven at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, and asked if such a need existed here in Edmonton. After careful consideration, research and consultation during the past three years, we felt it was the right thing to do.”
The goal of Covenant Health’s Angel Cradles is to augment the existing safety net, not replace or undermine the quality work provided by community social service agencies, "but the reality is some parents feel they have no other choice if they have hidden their pregnancy or there are other perceived barriers to seeking appropriate help," says Dr. Irene Colliton, Family Medicine Chief at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, and they end up abandoning their child in an unsafe setting."
The hospitals will not try to locate the parents of a baby left in the Angel Cradle as long as the baby is unharmed. Child and Family Services will make all attempts to identify and locate the parents—they are obligated to do so according to the law. Leaving a child in the Angel Cradle is not a criminal offence unless the baby is injured.
Originally known as foundling wheels, newborn safe havens have Catholic roots. In 1198, Pope Innocent III ordered foundling wheels in churches and orphanages after he was disturbed by the number of babies being abandoned in the Tiber River. They tended to fade from history with the development of modern health care and social services, but in recent decades baby hatches began reappearing across Europe and Asia, and safe haven legislation has been enacted in the majority of US States.
“As a Catholic organization, we draw on our rich history, which has a tradition of providing safety and care to those who are most vulnerable, including abandoned infants,” says Self. "That is why we are so committed to developing services such as Angel Cradle. We certainly support the rights of children to know their parental history, as declared by the World Health Organization, as well as the rights of fathers, but despite the criticism of the WHO regarding baby hatches, we recognize that unsafe abandonment still occurs in our society, and this preventative measure at least gives a child a chance to know its history and be reunited if later the parent(s) comes forward. In a moment of desperation, a rash decision may be made that can have dire consequences," emphasizes Self.
If a child is left safely in the Angel Cradle, the regular process of ensuring the protection of an abandoned child will be followed once the child’s health is assessed—the newborn will be placed in the care of Child and Social Services.