United Way, The Hope Box sponsors Safe Haven training in Valdosta
The Valdosta Fire Department’s (VFD) three-day educational training program on the Safe Haven law ended on Thursday.
The Greater Valdosta United Way and The Hope Box, a nonprofit organization based out of Acworth, sponsored the training.
The Hope Box works to educate the public on the issues of infant abandonment, including reasons for abandonment, the types of infant abandonment, the laws surrounding it and the ways the public can help create better outcomes for abandoned infants.
The training focused on providing VFD safe haven drop facilities with information surrounding infant abandonment and Hope Box resources for the care of mothers at risk and training on receiving and processing newborn babies.
“Anytime, we can come down and talk to a first responder, especially firefighters and EMS because they are a first-line responder who is invited into the home. We want them to be fully aware of any law pertaining to a particular case of something they might see. If they don’t know what’s available to the community they are serving, they can’t offer it to their community. We want them to be fully prepared, so they are providing the best community service possible,” said Emily Virkler, Hope Box director of operations.
Virkler also said some women and families don’t know the resources available to them.
“It’s about making sure babies are not abandoned, but it’s also about making sure that mothers and families are educated on these resources because the more we know, the better we do,” Virkler said.
In May 2017, Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 391, amending previous legislation passed in 2002. Under HB 391, Georgia’s Safe Haven law, if a mother feels that her child is unsafe or unable to be cared for, she has up to 30 days to drop off a newborn at a medical facility, fire station or police department.
Under the law, a mother can avoid prosecution for the abandonment of her child. The baby must be given to an employee or volunteer at the facility.
In 2017 alone, 478 infants were abandoned in Georgia.
Fire Chief Brian Boutwell said he became more aware of the need for training after attending a conference and hearing the statistics surrounding infant abandonment. Valdosta is located along I-75 and considered a regional hub for the many surrounding communities in South Georgia, giving Chief Boutwell all the more reason to make sure firefighters and staff are adequately trained to assist as a safe haven facility.
“It was alarming to me to hear the statistics for abandoned infants. I immediately started looking into how we can better train and prepare to assist in these situations,” said Boutwell. “The Safe Haven law provides mothers in need a safe alternative to surrender their babies and to give that child a chance for new life. Our fire station locations and close proximity to major highways and interstates in South Georgia make it a clear, accessible option to those who need it most.”