Safe and sound

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

In Chris Arni's mind, the best testimony for infant-surrender laws was climbing all over firetrucks and flashing a shy smile that's temporarily short two front teeth. "It makes it real when you see a living person, a little child who has gone on and become part of a family," she said.

Arni and her husband, Mark, adopted 5-year-old Jonathan after his mother surrendered him to employees at Riverside Methodist Hospital on Sept. 7, 2003.

Jonathan's mother had given birth nine weeks early at home. She wrapped up the baby and drove to the hospital, where she gave some basic information and

then left, Mrs. Arni said. "We'll never know how she knew that option was available to her," said Mrs. Arni, who lives near Lancaster in Fairfield County. "But it's

important that mothers know no one is going to come after them if they do this."

Last month, she took Jonathan to an "awareness event" sponsored by Franklin County Children Services at Franklinton's Fire Station 10, where child-welfare

advocates gathered to promote the state's revised Safe Havens law.

Instead of 72 hours, birth parents now have up to 30 days to anonymously surrender an infant to hospital employees, police, emergency-medical workers or

firefighters without fear of prosecution. Supporters say the option could have been used at least twice in central Ohio this summer. One infant was abandoned on

a grassy embankment in Delaware County on June 9, and another was wrapped in a plastic bag and left on the porch of an East Side home on June 27. Both


Some child-welfare advocates worry that the potential for additional abandonment cases is high, because child abuse seems to be rising along with

joblessness and despair. "The economic times are having a very disproportionate effect on children," said Yvette McGee Brown, president of the Center for Child

and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

She said the hospital handled 12 cases of fatal abuse in 2008, compared with five the previous year. Doctors also saw 43 cases of abusive head trauma in

2008, nearly twice as many as in 2007. "The overwhelming majority are children under 1," McGee Brown said. Of the deaths, 11 of the 12 were 1 year old or


All states now have safe-havens statutes, which are not without critics. Those who oppose legal abandonment say the process can keep the surrendering

family from getting needed help, cut fathers out of the picture and prevent children from knowing their social and medical histories. Critics also say there's no

evidence the laws work, because parents who choose safe surrender might not be inclined to harm a child anyway.

Advocates strongly disagree. They say awareness is the issue. According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, 70 Ohio infants have been

surrendered under the law through 2008. "For Safe Havens to be more effective, people have to know about them," said the association's Gregory Kapcar.

Mrs. Arni said she never doubts the need for the option. "Jonathan is doing well in every area," she said. "He's happy."