Toronto councillor considers joining ‘baby cradle’ movement

The baby box at St. Paul's, called 'Angel's Cradle,' has been used just once since its inception in 2010.

Canada’s largest city could soon consider whether to implement a system to accept unwanted babies – a program known as “angel cradles” by the few Canadian hospitals currently willing to accept unwanted infants anonymously.

Toronto Coun. Michelle Berardinetti is raising a motion to bring a baby cradle program to a local health care centre, arguing it would create a safe and anonymous “alternative” for mothers who deliver a child and are unable or unwilling to care for it.

Berardinetti’s motion calls for the city and Ontario health ministry to "create a program within a public hospital facility in Toronto which would facilitate the acceptance of unwanted babies with anonymity for the parents and where the child is immediately taken into the care of the appropriate child welfare agency."

The motion tips its cap to a recent "angel cradle" program launched at two Edmonton hospitals last month, and notes that a similar program is also operating in Vancouver.

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Angel cradles, also known as baby boxes, work as an anonymous dispensary. Parents who cannot care for their children can place the baby in a secure hospital receptacle that alerts staff the moment it is used. Nurses retrieve the baby from the receptacle without ever making contact with the parent. A system is in place that can help identify the depositor in extreme cases, such as if criminality is suspected.

The concept of angel cradles makes the success of previous programs difficult to quantify. This is a last resort-type solution intended to help those who feel they can't raise a child and have no other recourse.

As such, you can't gauge its value based on the number of "customers served."

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The Alberta angel cradles opened in Edmonton's Grey Health and Misericordia hospitals one month ago. So far no children have been turned over through the system.

A Covenant Health spokesperson said the Vancouver program run by Providence Health Care has only received one baby since it launched in 2010.

"The safety net already exists and this was one extra piece for somebody who feels like they needed a last resort," media relations advisor Rayne Kuntz told Yahoo! Canada News. "It is really for those extreme, extreme cases."

The idea was more common in medieval times, but has made a comeback recently in Europe. Along with the handful of Canadian facilities, a push is on to bring one to Saskatoon, there are several more operating in the U.S.

The idea does have its detractors. The United Nations' child's rights committee wants a global ban, calling it a form of legitimized abandonment.

A report suggests more should be done to help mothers support the child rather than give them a simple process with which to dispose of it.

One suspects the extreme cases that baby boxes are designed to address – those instances where a child is abandoned in a dumpster or purposely left at a Wal-Mart – would not be served by one more attempt at outreach.

It is a victory that Edmonton's angel cradles have not been used. And it will be a victory if Toronto builds its own and it sits idle.

But if it used even once, if one child is saved, then victory is not a strong enough word.