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Safe surrender sites for abandoned newborns being met with reluctance in Alberta

Click to play video: 'Safe surrender sites for abandoned newborns in Alberta being met with reluctance' Safe surrender sites for abandoned newborns in Alberta being met with reluctance
WATCH: They are considered a last resort option for desperate mothers: baby boxes where newborns can be safely surrendered. But the charity advocating for the installation of them in fire halls in Alberta is hitting significant obstacles. Jill Croteau reports – Sep 22, 2022

It’s been almost a year since a safe surrender site was installed at a fire hall in Strathmore, Alta.

It was the first time in Canada that such a site was opened at a fire hall, and the charity spearheading the Hope’s Cradle project doesn’t want it to be the last.

The Hope’s Cradle is an initiative to allow parents to safely and anonymously leave a child at a specific location if they feel they cannot care for them. Once an infant is left in the cradle, a silent alarm informs staff.

Jordan Guildford, the founder of Gems for Gems, described the site as a lifesaving option for desperate mothers.

“It is a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ the next baby comes,” she said.

“Now that we know that we can help this problem, that is on us, and that weighs heavily on me.”

Inside Hope’s Cradle, a temperature controlled bassinet. Jill Croteau/Global News

Guildford said the safe alternative for moms to abandon their newborns has been met with reluctance by fire halls in Alberta. Despite hundreds of emails to convince them to house this initiative, only the Strathmore Fire Department has said yes.

READ MORE: Hope’s Cradle in southern Alberta to provide safe alternative to baby abandonment

“They keep calling it a perfect storm,” she said. “What that means is, essentially all the resources and all the first-responder resources are out on another call and unable to attend the cradle.

“No matter what, a safe, temperature-controlled cradle is going to be better than a ditch or a dumpster.

“Winnipeg is interested. Nova Scotia is interested. Ontario is very interested. But we need Alberta. Alberta should be leading the charge here.”

Exterior of Hope’s Cradle. Jill Croteau/Global News

There is a conscious effort to give these babies a chance at life and to support the mothers who feel there is no other option.

Safe surrender sites are entirely anonymous and inside there’s an envelope in which there are details about resources. Parents also have the opportunity to write a letter to their child.

Capt. Eric Alexander of the Strathmore Fire Department said Hope’s Cradle needs to be accessible in more neighbourhoods.

“We are here to serve the needs of our community,” he said. “If we can invest a small amount to save a life, that’s definitely worth it.

“We spend millions of dollars on equipment and training for the chance to save a life, and if we can install Hope’s Cradle in a fire hall, it’s (a) pretty small (cost)… to pay for that opportunity.”

Hope’s Cradle. Jill Croteau/Global News

The concept is to make is safe for mom and baby.

Alexander said the mother or family member who is leaving a baby at such a site opens the door to set off a silent alarm that alerts dispatch.

“After 20 seconds, if the door remains open, an alarm sounds to let the mother know first responders are on their way and if they want to remain anonymous, they (had) better vacate the premises. That door is then locked.”

Compartment is temperature controlled and secure. Jill Croteau/Global News

He said it is a low-maintenance project and urges others to consider it.

“We look at it like: we check the rest of our equipment in the fire hall,” Alexander said.

“We do a daily check to make sure the temperature of the cradle is correct and the alarm panel is functioning, but it adds 20 or 30 seconds to a day at maximum.”

Dave Sweet works in the Calgary Police Service’s homicide unit. He said he supports the initiative and added that the true scope of it cannot be calculated.

“The alternative is tragic,” he said. “This could potentially lead to a safe surrender of a child, and that child gets to have a life.

“The impact is enormous… (when a baby) is found deceased in a dumpster. It is felt by the person that discovered the baby. It is felt by the first responding officer that attended and it is certainly felt by the mother.”

Safe surrender site advocates are calling on communities to compel their neighbourhood fire hall to accept the next cradle.

“I honestly get a little choked up thinking about the next time… (that a) baby is abandoned and we find that,” Guildford said.

“I think the need is huge, and not doing anything about it when we know what to do is wrong.”

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