On Valentine's Day, I received the first word of a serious situation facing the St. Helens Department of Health and Human Services office.
A perfect 7-pound newborn girl had been found unconscious in the toilet of a St. Helens adult care facility. A facility employee heroically – and successfully – worked to revive the girl. Medics responded and transported the infant to a local hospital for further treatment and observation.
Just six days after her birth, Baby Valentine – as DHS staff members began calling her – was calm and content as our St. Helens caseworkers took turns cuddling her.
Now Baby Valentine is safely in foster care while the court determines custody issues. Her mother, an employee of the care facility, faces criminal charges. The consequences of this unwanted birth were traumatic but not tragic. Not all unwanted babies are as lucky.
However, Oregon's Safe Place for Newborns Law offers a way to save these children without passing judgment or placing blame. This law permits a distressed parent to give up a baby safely, legally and confidentially within the first 30 days of the baby's life.
The law, sponsored by Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, permits either parent to leave a newborn child at a hospital, doctor's office, birthing clinic, police station, sheriff's office or fire department.
There are no legal consequences for making this choice as long as the baby is 30 days old or younger, is handed to a person at one of the above places, and shows no signs of abuse. The baby will be cared for and will receive medical attention if needed. DHS will place the baby in foster care and start the legal process for making the child available for adoption. Many families are waiting to adopt an infant.
I am told there wasn't a dry eye in our St. Helens office the day Baby Valentine visited. I understand why. Holding that little child, our DHS staff shared a flood of emotions: how perilously she clung to life, how we hope she will grow up in a loving family, and how we want to spare any infant such a trauma.
The Safe Place law offers a way to give unwanted babies the kind of future Baby Valentine was almost denied. Please join me in spreading the word that in Oregon there is a Safe Place for infants whose parents are not able or willing to parent.
It's not only the law, it's the duty of all of us to make Oregon a safer place for all citizens.
Bryan Johnston is interim Assistant Director of Oregon Department of Human Services,
Children, Adults and Families Division. For more information, call 800-SAFENET.