Saskatoon Sanctum's angel's cradle idea put on hold

Sanctum’s executive director says organization will work with government and community partners to address all questions around the program.

Programs allow parents to leave a baby at a hospital or other location anonymously, while ensuring safe care

Edmonton has two angel's cradle destinations. A proposed angel's cradle program at Saskatoon's Sanctum has been put on hold. (Covenant Health)

The organizers of a proposed Saskatoon program which would allow mothers to remain anonymous when turning over their newborns for care have pressed pause on their plans. 

Sanctum — which runs a 10-unit supportive housing program that provides prenatal care, opioid substitution therapy and parenting classes in Saskatoon — hoped to bring an "angel's cradle" program to Saskatoon.

An angel's cradle makes it possible for someone to leave a baby at a hospital or another location anonymously while ensuring the child is in safe care.

Sanctum executive director Katelyn Roberts told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning her organization was comfortable with the decision.

"In conversation with government and community agencies at this point in time, we're taking a step back, and going to work with our partners and government to ensure that we've addressed all the gaps," Roberts said.

Sanctum executive director and co-founder Katelyn Roberts, seen here speaking at Sanctum 1.5's grand opening in September, says there is currently no way she's aware of for parents to anonymously and safely give up their child. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman said the angel's cradle at Sanctum is not operational at this time. A working group will be formed to find and address any gaps currently in the system to make it a reality.

Merriman said a review of so-called safe-haven laws was conducted with the help of the Saskatchewan Child Advocate and other organizations between 2011 and 2013. At the time it was decided no such legislation would be put in place.

"Now that this has kind of resurfaced again, we're going to have another look at it," Merriman said.

He said taking a step back from introducing an angel's cradle in Saskatoon would allow for more time to educate the public about the options available to parents who have no avenue other than giving up their child.

The pause would also would provide a way for the government to find solutions in addressing the gaps which exist, he said.

Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman says a mother who chooses to give up her child may do so at a hospital or by speaking with social services. However, she would be required to identify herself. (Trent Peppler/CBC )

"We want to make sure there is an opportunity to gather any information on the child's heritage [or] any medical information that could be applicable to that child's safety."

Concerns exist about the program from some Indigenous communities, who are currently trying to reconnect families across the province, he said. They feel an angel's cradle may be a step backward in terms of those efforts, according to Merriman.

He said fathers' rights and the ability to care for children left in angel's cradles also needs to be examined.

Legislation needed first

Roberts said women sometimes unsafely abandon their children because they feel it is the only option available to them.

"We want to encourage mothers to make the right choices for themselves, whatever that might be," she said.

"For some of them it may be parenting, it may not be parenting, it may be adoption or kinship placement, or sometimes it may be an angel's cradle."

It doesn't happen often but when it does, it sends shock waves throughout the community - the discovery of the body of a newborn in a dumpster. Some cities, like Vancouver and Edmonton, have responded by setting up an 'angel's cradle.' It's a safe, anonymous place mothers where can leave their babies. Last month, Sanctum 1.5 announced plans for an angel's cradle in Saskatoon. But now the orgnaization is being asked to step back from that plan. 8:41

She said Sanctum strives to meet the needs of the population it serves, and further conversations with government officials and community organizations would ensure no gaps exist.

Roberts said as far as she knows, there is currently no way for parents to anonymously and safely give up their child. She said Sanctum considered the angel's cradle as a last resort for women who have no other avenues.

Merriman said a mother who chooses to give up her child may do so at a hospital or by speaking with social services. However, she would be required to identify herself.

"Even in the angel's cribs that do operate in Western Canada, there is still an investigation process to find out who the mother is," Merriman said.

"They want to make sure the parents' rights are protected and the child's rights are protected as well."

Roberts said the process for police or social services recovering a child from an angel's crib is different in each jurisdiction.

Doctor weighs in on value cradles bring to community

Dr. Geoffrey Cundiff, who helped bring an angel's cradle to Vancouver, said it's important to have governments on board with the program.

He said he is impressed with Canada's social safety net, but babies are still abandoned in communities.

"The truth is we don't know a lot about babies who get left behind in the community," Cundiff said. "The fact is, babies that are abandoned in the community often don't survive."

Cundiff said putting the baby's well-being first is the most important reason behind implementing an angel's cradle.

He said in eight years, two babies have been left with the Vancouver angel's cradle, while one has been left in the community. Those babies were assessed to ensure their health before being admitted into the maternity ward at the hospital there.

Cundiff said babies were then taken into care by the British Columbia Child and Family Development staff, who start the placement process while they search for the mother.

Cundiff said he hoped to see all sides agree on the importance of the program and called the pause in implementing an angel's cradle in Saskatoon valuable.

"In the end, I think it's probably a service most communities in Canada could use," Cundiff said.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.


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