"It worked! It worked!” Former Chickasha state Rep. Susan Winchester was thrilled to see recent news pictures of healthy twin babies accompanied by stories about how they had been left at a Shawnee fire station by a mother who thought she was too poor to care for them. Winchester was an author of the state’s safe haven law with then-state Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City. The law, which took effect in 2001, allows a parent to leave a baby up to 7 days old with a medical services provider or child rescuer without fear of prosecution. Approved drop-off points include police stations, fire stations, child protective services agencies, hospitals or other medical centers. "That just warms your heart,” Winchester said of last weekend’s happy ending. "Instead of headline news saying they found a baby dead in a trash can somewhere, you find a picture of two beautiful little kids that are safe and healthy and will have good homes. ... I said if we saved the life of just one baby, it made everything worthwhile.” The Shawnee twins, a boy and a girl, were newborns whose umbilical cords had been tied off with small rubber bands. They were found in the back of a firefighter’s pickup at a Shawnee fire station Saturday morning after a woman called a city dispatcher to say she had dropped the infants off at the station because she was poor and was not able to care for them. Shawnee police have been trying to identify and locate the mother to check on her safety and obtain family history and medical information for the benefit of the babies. They also have been trying to identify the father to see if he is interested in exercising custody rights. So far they have had no luck.
Tragedies prompt lawWinchester is all too familiar with what else can happen when a new parent panics. The safe haven law took effect during a year when a newborn was found zipped in a book bag and abandoned in an Oklahoma garbage bin. About the same time, a mother delivered a baby in a public rest room at the Tulsa Zoo, and the baby died. Winchester said she doesn’t know how many Oklahoma children have been given up by parents under provisions of the safe haven law because the law contained no tracking requirement. However, Winchester thinks such occurrences are rare. The Oklahoman reported in 2006 about a baby boy, about an hour old, who was left in a waiting room chair at an Oklahoma City medical center. Winchester said she was told about a similar incident in Grady County. "What you’d really like to have happen is to have birth parents realize that there is the adoption option,” Winchester said. Through adoption agencies, women who find themselves in unwanted pregnancies can be given places to live where their expenses are covered, she said. The mother receives prenatal and postnatal care, and family medical information can be obtained for the future benefit of the child. "In this day and time, you have the option of looking at profiles of families that you want to choose to have your child,” Winchester said. "You can have an open adoption. You can actually meet with them. It’s so different than it was 30 or 40 years ago when everything was secret and behind closed doors. You can have a say in the placement of your child.”
Help availableDeborah Smith, program director for the children and family services division of the state Department of Human Services, said if a pregnant woman or new mother in crisis will go to her local DHS office, she will be assessed and offered help. Assistance can range from information about adoption to services that might enable a mother to keep her child, Smith said. The state’s voluntary foster care program can be extremely helpful, she said. An overwhelmed mother can put her baby in the voluntary foster care program for 30 to 90 days while DHS employees work with the mother to develop a service plan to take care of the family’s monetary, housing, food and other needs, she said. Often, Medicaid assistance can be obtained, Smith said. Beth Scott, DHS spokeswoman, said financial benefits can be obtained through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Food benefits are available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which replaced food stamps. Child care assistance and help in obtaining child support also are available, she said. The state Health Department administers the Women, Infants, and Children program, which provides food items.