On the morning of Nov. 8, an alleyway off of Fifth Avenue North was buzzing with police activity after an unexpected discovery in a recycling bin. The recovery of the body of a recently deceased infant has renewed calls for an Angel Cradle, a designated place where a baby can be left safely.
The first Angel Cradle was installed in a Vancouver hospital in 2010 with two other cradles opening up in Edmonton’s Grey Nuns and Misericordia Community Hospital. Despite the interest to have an Angel Cradle located in Saskatoon, there have been many roadblocks to actualizing the program.
Calls for the cradle started back in 2010, after a Saskatoon woman admitted to leaving her newborn in the garbage bin. The woman was only 17 at the time and gave birth, alone and unassisted, in her home.
The incident led to a week long search of the city’s garbage dump, with the aid of cadaver dogs from Calgary. The body of the infant was never recovered. The woman pled guilty to “not obtaining assistance in childbirth” and was given two years probation for the offence.
Under the Canadian Criminal Code, women who fail to secure reasonable assistance before or shortly after birth — with the intent to conceal the birth of the child — can serve two to five years in prison. In the case of the young woman from 2010, she concealed her pregnancy and the birth of her child out of fear of being ostracized by her family and the threat of being thrown out of her home.
These stories are tragically too frequent in Canada. Only several months before the 2010 landfill search, the same events played out in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, after a woman admitted to leaving her baby in a garbage bag.
Despite all the calls to help find the mother of the infant left in a Saskatoon alley earlier this month, she has yet to be located. And while the search for her is focused on the concern for her health and wellbeing, it’s not surprising that she has not reached out for help.
These stories show that there is a large gap in healthcare and support systems for women in need. It’s clear that women who leave their babies in bins are doing so out of desperation. They feel like they have no other choice.
This is why programs like the Angel Cradle are so important. They help to give women who feel like they have no other choices the opportunity to leave their babies safely and anonymously.
And the non-profit Sanctum Care Group hopes that their prenatal care home can be the location of Saskatchewan’s first Angel Cradle. Sanctum 1.5 opened last October and has helped to support and house 21 mothers and their babies in the past year. The home works to support high risk women and HIV positive women who are pregnant.
The goal is to help these women receive pre and postnatal healthcare and community support which will allow women to be able to transition from the house with the tools needed to raise their children.
Katelyn Roberts, executive director of Sanctum Care Group, spoke to the Sheaf about the group’s initiatives and goals.
“We provide wrap around and integrative care and support to them while they are pregnant to improve the health and social outcomes of both mom and baby and prevent children from entering the foster care system,” Roberts said.
And the program is succeeding with 17 out of 21 babies living with their mothers in the community or at the Sanctum home.
Plans for an Angel Cradle at Sanctum were established when the home opened, however, the Ministry of Social Services has yet to green light the plan.
“Sanctum had identified the need to provide a full continuum of services for women living in complex and highly vulnerable situations, including the need to safely and anonymously relinquish care of their infant,” Roberts said.
However, Sanctum was asked to place the program on hold until the Ministry of Social Services has reviewed the need for the service. When calls for an Angel Cradle were renewed in light of recent events, the Ministry of Social Services once again stated that this is something that needs more discussion before it is implemented.
Sanctum plans to go ahead without the support of the Ministry.
“After the recent tragedy that took place in Saskatoon we feel that it’s our responsibility, as an organization that provides services to vulnerable women, to ensure that we move forward with having that option available,” Roberts said.
The circumstances around the recent incident are unknown and it is hard to say whether an Angel Cradle would have changed the outcome in that case. Still, Roberts stresses that it really highlights the urgency and need for the service within the community.
Erin Matthews/ Opinions Editor
Photo: Riley Deacon