The tragic story of an abandoned newborn baby found dead in Calgary is prompting greater awareness about resources in Edmonton for parents unsure if they can keep and care for a baby.
There are two safe drop-off locations for babies, called Angel Cradle, at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and Misericordia Community Hospital. Both were installed in 2013 after a hospital in Vancouver implemented a similar system.
“We very quickly determined that, based on our clinical experience caring for moms who had left a baby, and we have known there have been people – babies have been left in fields, hotel rooms, closets, etc. – we know that has occurred,” said Gordon Self, vice president of mission, ethics and spirituality for Covenant Health.
“We felt like it was important we provide that additional option here in Edmonton as well.”
The system has been in place for four years, and Self said it has been used once, within the last six months.
“It was a healthy newborn. It was a safe drop-off and that, as we had designed the program, it worked as we had expected it,” Self said, declining to give further details to protect the identity of the baby.
“This is meant to be a last resort option. If the person can get that help ahead of time, that’s the ideal.”
The Angel Cradle is located outside the emergency department at the back of both hospitals.
Self said a parent can approach the door, which is clearly marked with “Angel Cradle” and instructions, and place the baby inside. The bassinet contains a blanket, teddy bear and information for the parent to take to receive help for themselves.
“Once that door is open, it sets off a delay alarm. Within 60 seconds, the triage area of our emergency department would hear that alarm going off, they would come and go to the Angel Cradle,” Self said.
“During the 60 seconds, it allows the parent to leave the baby in the bassinet.”
Self said triage staff would then bring the baby to the emergency department where it would be assessed then admitted into the neo-natal intensive care unit. Child and Family Services would then be contacted to assume custody of the baby, he said.
There have been numerous incidents of abandoned babies across the country over the years.
In Nov. 1987, a newborn was found in a garbage bag by two teenage boys in a Calgary parking lot. The baby was nicknamed “Baby Mary” and quickly became a story that captured the attention of people across the country.
In Oct. 2010, a Calgary man unknowingly discovered his own son in the dumpster. Police said the mother was not aware of her pregnancy and said the father wasn’t aware either until authorities told him.
More recently, in Oct. 2017, a newborn was found abandoned outside a building in Halifax. The baby was described as healthy and between four and five weeks old.
Angel Cradle programs exist in Vancouver and there are two locations in Edmonton but Calgary does not have any safe drop-offs for babies.
“This is meant to be a stop gap. The more that there’s comprehensive services available and people are aware of that and can access that, that’s the ideal. That’s what we really want to see happen,” Self said.
Forensic psychologist Dr. Patrick Baillie said a similar program should be established in Calgary.
“If it’s a good program to have in Edmonton, it would strike me as being a good program we should have in Calgary,” Baillie said.
“Again, if we had more resources available to help mothers then maybe we wouldn’t need to hear about these stories at all.”
At this point, it isn’t clear whether AHS has plans for any more Angel Cradles in Alberta.
According to Covenant Health, leaving a baby in an Angel Cradle is not a criminal offence as long as there are no signs the baby has been hurt. If the baby is found hurt in any way when left in the Angel Cradle, Covenant Health said police must be notified.