By Valerie Garman
The Safe Haven for Newborns program allows any person with a newborn approximately 7 days old or younger to drop off the child at a designated Safe Haven Spot, located at fire stations, hospitals and ambulance stations, with complete anonymity and free from fear of prosecution.
The program was based on Florida’s Safe Haven law, ratified in 2000 in response to the increasing number of abandoned newborns in Florida. The Safe Haven program began in Miami and has spread to all of Florida’s 67 counties.
Both Marion County Fire Rescue and Ocala Fire Rescue are designated Safe Haven spots. All hospitals in Florida are also Safe Havens.
The abandoned infant, estimated to be less than a week old, was found in a cardboard box and was ant-bitten and hungry but otherwise in good health.
Ocala Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Wendell Rora said several factors could have led to the infant’s death had it not been found, such as malnourishment and severe heat, and outside factors including ants, wandering dogs and traffic.
“We’ve been a Safe Haven location for about two or three years,” Rora said. “There’s really no excuse. I’m pretty sure the mother or whoever dropped off the baby was frightened and didn’t know what else to do.”
Rora encourages anyone who can’t take care of an infant for any reason to bring the baby to a fire station or hospital. He ensures that the person leaving the baby will not be questioned.
Safe Havens are designed to take in newborn babies
“Instead of leaving the baby to die, bring the baby, drop it off,” Rora said. “We don’t want to see a baby be left to die.”
Nick Silverio, founder of the Safe Haven for Newborns Program, said the program has helped many women in crisis and in need.
“It’s important because it saves lives,” said Silverio, who lives in Palmetto Bay in Dade County.
Silverio was flipping through Reader’s Digest one night when he stumbled on an article about child abandonment. After doing some research, Silverio said he knew it would be his new purpose in life to save the lives of innocent, helpless infants.
Silverio’s wife, Gloria, suffered two miscarriages, and the couple were never able to have children of their own. Instead, they channeled their love for children through nurturing their godchildren, nieces and nephews.
When Gloria, his wife of 31 years, died in a car accident, Silverio decided to continue her legacy through a not-for-profit organization focusing on her love for children.
Since 2001, the Gloria Silverio Foundation’s Safe Haven for Newborns program has saved the lives of 131 newborns across Florida.
Silverio said the program’s hot line receives about eight calls a day from women all over the country. All services are confidential.
“One of the most important aspects of the program is the anonymity of the mother,” Silverio said. “It’s the key.”
Gainesville Fire Rescue Stations have been designated Safe Haven spots since the program began in 2001. The Gainesville Fire Rescue Safe Haven signs were replaced with newly designed signs last week to symbolically remind the community of the program’s services.
“What we don’t want to have happen is for people to put babies in Dumpsters and things like that,” said Carol Davis, Gainesville Fire Rescue public information officer. Although a newborn has never been left at a Gainesville Fire Rescue Safe Haven, Davis said it is important, especially in hard economic times, for people to know these services are available.
“This is kind of for people in dire situations, so they don’t fear getting in trouble.”
For information on the Safe Haven for Newborns program and Safe Haven locations, call toll-free 877-767-2229.