Manitoba community set to open safe drop-off site where people can surrender infants anonymously
A community outside of Winnipeg will soon have a safe place for people to anonymously drop off their babies.
The Landmark Fire Hall is the second location in Canada to install a Hope’s Cradle, an initiative started a few years ago by Gems for Gems, a Calgary-based organization that works with domestic violence survivors.
Allan Rau, fire chief for the rural community of Taché, said the support from the fire hall staff has been tremendous.
“Everyone within the fire service embraced it. They’re all looking for updates,” Rau said on Friday.
“They are very, very happy that it was introduced. But they don’t want it used either.”
Installation was completed this week and the cradle is undergoing a two-week testing period to ensure all of its components – including the heater, camera, alarm system and door locking mechanisms – are working properly.
It should be up and running in early March, Rau said.
Gems for Gems founder Jordan Guildford said the Hope’s Cradle initiative is in response to instances where infants have been found abandoned in places like garbage cans. The first location opened in Alberta in 2021.
“We don’t know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes… All we can do is try to understand what we’re seeing and try to be there for the people who are in need,” Guildford said.
Some women who give up their children are vulnerable or exploited, she said.
“It’s not the crazy black and white situation that a lot of people would like to believe. And I think we need to be really grounded and [remember] the need for it, but also sympathy for the ‘why’ behind it.”
How it works
Each page has basic instructions that tell people using the cradle how it works.
If a person opens the door of the drop-off point, a silent alarm will immediately sound to alert first responders.
This is followed by a second alarm, which goes off about two minutes later, to alert the person so no one is caught off guard by a firefighter’s arrival, Guildford said.
“We’ve done a lot to make this as compassionate as possible for the mother,” she said.
Each Hope’s Cradle has basic instructions on the front to educate users on how the cradle works. When a person opens the door of the delivery point, it starts with a silent alarm that goes off immediately to alert first responders. (Tache Fire/Facebook)
There is also an envelope in the cradle with resource information for the parents and a medical form so they can submit health information that might help the child later. Parents also have the option to send an anonymous letter to the child along with the other information.
Once the door to the Cradle of Hope closes, it will be locked to prevent anyone from accessing it before first responders arrive to break in from inside the building, Guildford said.
After the child is left in the cradle, the regular processes of what happens when a child is abandoned somewhere begin. The parent has 30 days to gain custody of the child, she said.
The location also has temperature and ventilation controls and a camera inside that firefighters can use to monitor the child until they arrive – although no camera is ever pointed at the parent.
“The anonymity is paramount because that’s the difference between a woman choosing the unsafe option and this safe option,” Guildford said.
The whole thing costs about $20,000 to install — and that’s where Steinbach-based Life Culture Canada came in.
Executive director Susan Penner, whose organization is anti-abortion, said fundraising began in early November. By the end of the month, they had achieved their goal.
“It’s both exciting and sobering. You know, we’re happy to have this available, but at the same time, you hope it doesn’t have to be used,” Penner said.
“But we’d really appreciate it if it saved a baby’s life if that’s sort of a last resort for someone. So that’s really the goal, to help women who are in a terrible situation.”
Penner said in addition to the people of Landmark who are excited about hosting the initiative, it is also a good location for many people in southern Manitoba.
“I think the rationale for that is that Landmark is about 30 minutes from Winnipeg and 20 minutes from Steinbach – within about 30, 40 minutes there is a huge population base. So it’s a really good, central location.”
Once the door to Hope’s Cradle closes, it will be locked to prevent anyone from accessing it before first responders arrive to get in from the inside. (Tache Fire/Facebook)
With a second Hope’s Cradle in Canada about to open, Guildford said she has people interested in taking the initiative to Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and adding more in Alberta — and she hopes to take them that far spread as possible.
“We only need one quarterback in each ward to be able to do the introductions and kind of connect the dots,” she said.
“But once the dots are connected, we just jump in and take care of everything else.”
In an email to CBC News, a provincial spokesman said Manitoba’s Child and Family Services Act has provisions for birth parents to relinquish guardianship of a child.
Although there are no laws prohibiting an infant transfer center in Manitoba, the spokesman said provincial staff are committed to ensuring Hope’s Cradle complies with “child protection laws, child welfare conversion laws, and the province’s commitment to… abides by indigenous rights and reconciliation”.