It’s been a pretty routine shift so far. You’ve just finished dinner so you and the crew sit for a little TV before finishing house duties.
Suddenly there’s a knock at the front door. You casually walk over and open it to see a young woman, notably upset with tears in her eyes. She has a rolled up blanket in her arms. As you ask her what’s wrong, she extends her arms and says, “Please take my baby. I can’t take care of him.”
Startled, you reach out as she places the bundle in your arms. Silently she turns and walks away. “Hey! Wait,” you shout. But she walks on into the darkness.
What do you do? Is this legal? Whom do you call? The police? Family Services? Now What?
Under Daniel’s Law in South Carolina, a baby less than 30 days old may be left at any staffed fire or police station, hospital, or house of worship by a parent, anonymously, without fear of legal action. This is known as a Safe Haven.
The Safe Haven law was designed to prevent the tragedy of infant abandonment by allowing a mother or father to leave the baby in a safe environment without fear of legal repercussions.
Although your chances of encountering a Safe Haven baby are rare, infant abandonment is a real problem, not only across the Carolinas, but nationwide. Understanding the law and knowing what to do will help ensure that despite the rough beginnings, the baby now in your arms will have a promising future.
Nick Silverio created a Safe Haven for Newborns in 2001; originally to support the newly issued Safe Haven statute in Florida, giving young mothers an alternative to infant abandonment. Silverio established the Gloria M. Silverio Foundation, in memory of his wife who was killed in a car accident in 1999.
“She just loved children,” said Silverio of his wife, Gloria. “A Safe Haven for Newborns would have meant so much to her.” Silverio, a retired owner of an I.T. company, developed a web-based program as an educational resource for all Safe Haven personnel to understand the process and comply with the law.
“We always said, if we save just one life it will all be worth it,” explained Silverio. On Father’s Day, 2001 a baby was left at a fire station in South Florida. She was named Gloria Hope. Today Gloria Hope, who refers to Silverio as “Uncle Nick,” is 14 years old and lives in Kentucky with her adopted family.
Through implementation of a website, 24 hour hotline, web-based educational program and a network of collaborations with fire/EMS, hospitals, law enforcement, community organizations and volunteers, Silverio’s organization has saved 242 babies in Florida alone.
Tragedy to Triumph: Olympian Ali Dolan explains how she went from being an abandoned baby to a U.S. Olympian during the 2013 Sage Haven for Newborns Gala.
But there’s more to A Safe Haven then just rescuing abandoned babies. “We are a resource for mothers who may be hiding their pregnancy or just don’t know what to do,” he explained. “They are often confused, scared and usually have little or no support.”
Silverio described how they have not only taken in babies but have also helped many mothers keep their babies. “We have arranged for pre-natal care, housing, and we even got a mother a crib for her baby.”
The success of the program has been built on the strong relationships Silverio created throughout Florida. Along with corporate sponsors, healthcare professionals, and high-ranking politicians, Safe Haven also found a valuable partnership with the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association (FFCA). Through the FFCA Silverio was able to have Safe Haven signs placed in front of virtually every staffed fire station throughout the State.
“They have been a great partner,” explained Silverio. “And they have really been the catalyst that has driven our success in Florida.”
A Safe Haven provides training for all fire and EMS personnel through an online program. Upon completion of the program a participant receives two continuing education credits from the Florida State Fire College.
They have also expanded their online training to include nurses, law enforcement, allied health professionals and social workers. CEUs are available for each discipline, where appropriate.
But the infant abandonment issue does not stop at state borders, and neither does A Safe Haven. Through the efforts of Irmo Fire Marshall, Jeff Allen, and firefighter, Justin Heckard, the program is being brought out of the Sunshine State to South Carolina.
The Safe Haven statute in Florida differs slightly from South Carolina in that babies must be seven days old or younger and can only be dropped off at fire stations, EMS units or hospitals.
“Infant abandonment has become a pervasive issue here in South Carolina,” explained Allen. “A Safe Haven is the perfect avenue to help us deal with it.”
Irmo recently put Safe Haven signs on both of their fire stations as well as the police department. And in cooperation with Safe Haven have modified the online training to specifically address the South Carolina statute.
Safe Haven will be attending the South Carolina Firefighters Convention in June and will have a display on the show floor. Through the efforts of Chief Allen, they will be offering one-hour certificate classes introducing firefighters to the Safe Haven programs and the statute.
But all this costs money. All Safe Haven programs are provided at no charge to those they assist. So how does A Safe Haven for Newborns fund all these efforts? Aside from the nominal fee charged for the CEU credits issued from the training, Safe Haven is dependent upon donors.
“We have been very fortunate,” said Silverio. “We have great friends and terrific corporate partners who have supported us generously and believe in what we do.”
Each year A Safe Haven celebrates its anniversary with a gala held at the Drumpf National Golf Course in Doral, Florida. Florida’s elite, high profile, and key public figures gather to pledge their continued support for the organization.
A Safe Haven is not shy about telling their story. As well as a great deal of local news coverage, A Safe Haven for Newborns has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, had a feature article in People Magazine, and a profile in Unselfish.
Now It’s Your Turn
We need you. The fire service is the backbone of the Safe Haven program. Firefighters rank among the most trusted professions in the country. We need each and every South Carolina firefighter to go online, take the training, and learn about Daniel’s Law and the Safe Haven program. Encourage your department to put signs in front of your fire houses and become a member of the Safe Haven team.