Infant surrender site approved in Pickering may be in jeopordy after fire chief withdraws support

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Published June 21, 2024 at 1:46 pm

Hope's Cradle
The opening of the first Hope's Cradle in Strathmore, Alberta

An infant surrender site in a Pickering Fire Hall given the green light by Council in March may be in jeopardy after the city’s fire chief withdrew his support for the project.

Pickering Fire Chief Stephen Boyd said letters of objection from both Durham Regional Police and Durham Children’s Aid Society about the controversial Hope’s Cradle Safe Surrender System, which Council agreed in March to install at Fire Station #2, have convinced him to abort the proposal.

Council had agreed on March 27 to budget $25,000 for the safe surrender system – which allows mothers to safely and anonymously leave new born babies in a ‘cradle’ at the fire station.

Hope’s Cradle is a collaborative initiative – founded and being scaled nationwide by Calgary-based registered charity Gems for Gems – to protect infants from unsafe abandonment.

Ontario’s first Hope’s Cradle opened at the Bowmanville Fire Station #1 on Highway 2 in May after two years of legal wrangling.

A parent wishing to use the service can come to the unmonitored Hope’s Cradle Surrender Site at Fire Station #1 in Bowmanville. Inside the door, they will find a bassinet for the baby and an information package containing a medical form for the baby’s history and information about local support available to them, how the process works and their rights should they change their mind.

Once they leave and close the door, firefighters will get an alert that a baby has been placed in the cradle and will retrieve the infant. Paramedics will be called to do a health evaluation of the child and transport to Bowmanville Hospital. Children’s Aid Society and Dnaagdawenmag Child and Family Services would then be contacted.

Clarington Council approved the infant surrender site in the fall of 2022 and the cradle was built a year later but lay unopened and unused while council sorted through issues of liability with both Durham Children’s Aid and Durham Police, which both had concerns with the guarantee of anonymity.

Those same concerns surfaced during the approval process in Pickering, with Durham Police Chief Peter Moreira declaring there is no data to suggest the system is needed here, adding that in the 14 years the Ontario Solicitor General has been tracking infant abandonment there has never been a record of such a case in Durham Region and just two in all of Ontario.

“I understand and appreciate that this project comes from a desire to protect and avoid
tragedies,” Moreira said in a letter to Boyd, “but it appears we are creating the problem by implementing this solution.”

The promise of anonymity also “negatively” impacts the ability of police to investigate the circumstances behind the abandonment, Moreira noted. “If there are obvious signs of abuse, it doesn’t address challenges such as coercion or abduction which would be very difficult to investigate through this process.”

The involvement of the other biological parent in the decision-making process is also a concern, he added, a fear shared by Durham Children’s Aid Society Executive Director Stephen Woodman.

“Relinquishment of an infant through Hope’s Cradle may not afford an opportunity for the parent to receive independent advice about their rights and obligations,” he said in his letter to Boyd, adding the desire for ‘openness’ in the adoption process would also be compromised.

“It may also cause the loss of custodial and access rights of the second biological parent without their consent, let alone court oversight.”

The Hope’s Cradle infant surrender site

Clarington heard the same concerns and still approved the site, with Mayor Adrian Foster saying the safe abandonment system “has the potential to save a life.”

“I truly hope it’s never needed, but better it’s there and never used than the alternative. I’m proud that Clarington Council voted to make use of this space to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

A big difference in the two communities is the support of the respective fire chiefs, with Clarington Fire Chief David Speed noting in 2023 that some parents “may be unsafe or too ashamed” to go through the usual process of putting their child up for adoption. “This initiative offers a safe alternative for vulnerable parents across Durham Region and the Greater Toronto Area who feel they have no choice but to abandon their infant.”

Without the support of Pickering’s fire department – which is to be the host for the infant surrender site – the project may be doomed before it begins, noted Pickering Councillor Maurice Brenner.

“I don’t think they will go forward based on the objections,” he said. “We have to take the concerns from staff seriously.”

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