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Crisis Nurseries Need More Support To Prevent Infant Abandonment And Death

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner··  6 min read
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Crisis Nurseries Need More Support To Help Women And Children Avoid Tragedy shutterstock

Two preventable tragedies occurred this month. A newborn was found in a dumpster in New Mexico (alive, thankfully), and another was left outside a Chicago fire station in a duffel bag and died. Whether these pregnancies were planned or not, and no matter what anyone's stance on abortion is, these babies deserved better.

Both of these cases display that mothers and caregivers are still ignorant of all their options. In the case of the baby in New Mexico, security camera footage caught the 18-year-old mother throwing the baby boy away in a black trash bag. Six hours later, some dumpster divers found the infant alive and rescued him. That means the infant was lying in garbage, alone, for hours in a plastic bag and running out of oxygen. The mother has been charged with attempted murder. 

Unfortunately, no one was able to rescue the Chicago baby because he was left in a duffel bag at a designated safe-haven site without any notification. These sites are supposed to be a no-questions-asked solution for desperate parents or individuals caring for babies and children, but without proper monitoring and person-to-person interaction, someone left a baby alone in the cold and he was not found in time. 

Thankfully, there are solutions like crisis nurseries for desperate mothers and caregivers. They have been catching on for years and offer anyone a place to bring children for any reason. Whether unable to connect with a baby, provide a proper environment, or just need free childcare, these facilities provide food, shelter, and clothing for children no matter where they come from or what they look like.

Crisis Nurseries across the U.S.

The concept of the crisis nursery really took off in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The idea was to create a place for children to go when parents are at the end of their rope. They’re usually formed in a domestic setting, in a large house that has been altered to expand rooms for multiple infants and children. They provide a safe home for children to be brought to in times of need. 

These crisis nurseries serve local communities in California, New York, and throughout select states across the U.S., but not all areas have them. There are none listed in New Mexico, where the newborn was abandoned in a dumpster, and so there is plenty of need for expansion.  

Crisis nurseries provide a safe home for children to be brought to in times of need. 

Most of these nurseries are set up in highly-populated urban areas and serve the poorest communities. They’re always in need of volunteers and donations – monetary donations are nice, but nonperishable food, clothing, diapers, and formula are welcome as well. Parents can bring in their children’s gently used clothes, books, and toys, and individuals looking to help can donate some bottles or formula. Even small donations have a big impact when caring for a house full of children. 

Especially when some of these children will not be going back to their parents. Crisis nurseries are sometimes the safe haven that children are brought to before being placed into foster care. Some have been abused or neglected and just need a warm blanket to hide under.  

Why Crisis Nurseries Work

These facilities have great success rates because they’re not slowed down by government-sanctioned offices. They’re community-created, based, and focused. 

Many crisis nurseries run 24-hour helplines with volunteers or staff ready and waiting to answer calls and take in children at any hour. Their main goals are to prevent tragedies and to offer parents aid before they take out their frustrations on a child, lose a home, or experience other hardships. 

Crisis nursery volunteers are advised to ask no questions and to do what is best for the child.

Women who fear they can’t escape abusive relationships can at least get the children to safety and then discuss their options if they choose. But crisis nursery volunteers are advised to ask no questions and to do what is best for the child first and foremost. Anything beyond that is up to the parents.

If signs of abuse are displayed, the authorities may be contacted once the child has been dropped off, but they’re not dramatically brought in during exchanges, as this would cause the children further distress. Providing a welcoming, calm, happy environment is not always easy, but it’s a main goal that many volunteers work hard at. 

What It's Like To Volunteer at a Crisis Nursery

I myself worked as a volunteer at two of the St. Louis Crisis Nursery locations. After I had my second daughter I thought I was done having kids, so my shifts helped give me my baby fix. It was also a good place for young ladies to learn some childcare skills. 

The first location I frequented was in the county and broke me in. There were fewer children there and no babies. I spent most of my shifts playing with 3 to 8 year olds and reading them stories. 

As I got used to these shifts, I was sent to the inner-city location. The need there was far greater. They had babies, toddlers, and children. The staff often had to run out and grab more food and supplies. 

The racial disparity was heartbreaking. In the county it was more diverse, but in the city nearly every child was black. Many of them were scared and didn’t talk. Those shifts were bittersweet. Child services were contacted more often. 

Many of these children just want to feel loved.

I would break the ice by just picking up a toy or book and sitting on the floor. I let the toddlers and children come to me when they felt comfortable. It always worked. Within minutes, I would have a pile of kids in my lap and a group standing around me. There were always stragglers. They often needed more one-on-one interaction, so I would break out a box of toys and get the other children playing together. 

Once the group was occupied, I could go sit by the lone child and ask them if they needed anything. Even if they didn’t answer I often got a hug. Many of these children just want to feel loved. Once that barrier was broken, I could sit in a rocking chair and read to them or make up silly stories and let them decide what happened next. 

When the children went outside to play in the backyard, I usually stayed behind to feed and rock the babies. A lot of these little ones are hungry and cold. A warm bottle, a blanket, and a smile turned them into happy little cherubs. 

Closing Thoughts

Crisis nurseries are a perfect solution for parents who are in over their heads. They take in babies and children no matter the situation and prevent tragedy from occurring. If mothers like those of the baby boys in New Mexico and Chicago had these options, and knew about them, their situations could have had happy endings, but the fact is, they didn’t. 

Communities and individuals need to establish more crisis nurseries and support them in order to care for the next generation. All any kid wants is to feel safe and loved, and these places provide that. It’s enriching not just for them, but also for the adults and communities involved. 

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