An estimated 1,465 illegal and unsafe infant abandonments have occurred since 1999, while 4,014 babies have been saved through the work of the National Safe Haven Alliance during that same timeframe. One Owensboro woman, driven by a compassion to advocate for abandoned infants, took it upon herself to create the first safe haven site located in a place of worship in the entire state of Kentucky.
Tara Fitzgerald is a Kentucky state representative for the National Safe Haven Alliance, and she has spent the last five months working to create a safe haven location in Owensboro — a place where mothers who wish to abandon their infant can do so in a safe, anonymous and judgement-free manner. In recent weeks, Fitzgerald has been able to procure Legacy Owensboro Church as a safe haven for the abandonment of infant children.
Although fire stations and hospitals were already certified safe haven sites, Fitzgerald is the first person in Kentucky to create a safe haven beyond the realm of those environments. Her hope is that young and troubled mothers — ones who often hide their pregnancies and don’t plan on keeping their children — will feel more comfortable with safely leaving their children at a site that’s less intimidating and less public.
All safe haven personnel on Legacy’s staff underwent training to qualify the church as a location. Infants can be dropped off at Legacy’s current location at 3300 Frederica St. until July 1, after which Legacy will relocate its services to the Malco Cinema building, located at 5333 Frederica St.
“Our church isn’t staffed 24/7, but if we receive a call — even at midnight — or if someone shows up during the church’s normal operating hours, someone on our staff will show up to assist them. They will take an infant assessment, fill out an infant care packet and put a hospital bracelet on the ankle of the baby before they take the baby to the hospital,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of people are intimidated by hospitals being a safe haven — a lot of these girls hide their pregnancies.”
Fitzgerald was initially unable to open a safe haven due to laws that prevented places of worship from being certifiable locations. After a law was passed that allowed places of worship to operate as safe havens, Fitzgerald got to work on creating a site in Owensboro.
By law, infants must be 30 days of age or younger to be dropped off at a safe haven, although any signs of neglect or abuse must be reported immediately to authorities. If the infant appears unharmed after being examined, safe haven personnel must immediately contact emergency medical services for transportation to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Parents who leave their children at a safe haven may remain anonymous and can leave at any time. They will not be pursued nor persecuted, as long as the baby hasn’t been harmed.
Fitzgerald said she was driven to open a safe haven location after hearing a report about an infant in Kentucky who was put inside a bag and thrown over a balcony by a young mother.
“That crushed me,” she said. “I did some digging. If she had known there was another way, there could’ve been a different outcome. There’s a lack of awareness — people just don’t know.”
Those wishing to drop off their infant children can either call a confidential hotline beforehand at 1-888-510-BABY(2229) or they can show up at Legacy during normal operating hours without calling ahead.
Fitzgerald said all safe haven staff can offer counseling for mothers who decide to safely abandon their babies.
“We’re not going to take their child and have them just leave. We offer counseling,” she said.
However, mothers who don’t want to stick around afterward are free to leave too.
“She’ll never be contacted again if she doesn’t want to be,” Fitzgerald said. “She has 30 days to change her mind, and she can come back and claim her child.”
Although mothers have 30 days to reclaim their infant child, Fitzgerald said all infants will be in the state’s custody and placed in foster care after being medically examined at the hospital they’re transported to. Parents must contact their local Department of Community Based Services to claim parental rights before the 30 days is up.
While Fitzgerald has created the first church-based safe haven site in the state of Kentucky, her hope is that this site will reach mothers outside Daviess County as well.
“The whole state of Kentucky can utilize us — anyone who calls the hotline can be directed to us now,” Fitzgerald said.
Because the safe haven operates as a nonprofit, Fitzgerald encourages people to donate toward the organization.
“Every state representative is a volunteer. Funding is always limited when you’re operating a nonprofit,” she said.