Air Date: 9.11.2015
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Speaker 2: Love Talk Radio.
Connie Going: Hi. Hi, welcome to Block Talk Radio, Adoption Focus. This is Connie Going. I am so excited to be able to have with us today Jean Hoffman, and Jean Hoffman is a Safe Delivery program consultant in Michigan, and this show is sponsored by Adoption Associates, and Adoption Associates is a adoption agency that has been established since 1990. They have done well over 5000 adoptions in that time. They are located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and northeastern Michigan. They specialize in domestic and international, and they are very passionate about this topic for the Safe Delivery program.
So, let me just go ahead and get started. Jean, are you there?
Jean Hoffman: I am.
Connie Going: Oh, wonderful. I’m so excited to have you here and to learn all about this wonderful program. Tell us a little bit about the history and how you got involved with it.
Jean Hoffman: Well, the Safe Delivery of Newborns law was enacted in 2000, and at that time, I was the adoption program director for the Family Independence Agency. So, I had the lead responsibility of implementing the Safe Delivery law, which meant I had some input in how the language was drafted in the original law, and worked with a number of community agencies to get that implementation going, and the law was effective January 1, 2001. And the Michigan legislators really drafted this law because in early 2000, we had just an extraordinary number of infant abandonments.
Some of those infants survived and others did not. So, they were quite alarmed by the numbers and wanted to respond to that and offer a way for parents who were faced with an unplanned pregnancy, another option to consider. So, the Safe Delivery law does allow an individual with an unplanned pregnancy to safely, legally, and anonymously surrender an infant no more than 72 hours old to an emergency service provider. And in our law, the emergency service provider is defined as an employee or contractor of a hospital, a fire department, or a police station, and that individual employee has to be inside the building and on duty. And effective January 1, 2007, we expanded that definition to include a paramedic or EMT who would respond to a 911 call from a parent.
Connie Going: Okay. So, and help me understand, if I’m a woman that is, I’m pregnant, but it’s unplanned, I’m not sure what I’m gonna do and I go into labor, and instead of a lot of the stories that we read in the paper where a child is left abandoned on a doorstep or in a trash can, or you know, in such scary, scary things, is they can literally go to one of these places, or call 911 to have a paramedic come out, and they can do it. And how does the anonymous part work?
Jean Hoffman: Well, the parent can choose to not sure any identifying information, however we do ask that our emergency service providers who are in the position of accepting temporary protective custody of an infant, they are instructed to at least ask the parent if they’re willing to share some basic medical background, if not even their name with assurances that any information that they do provide will be kept confidential.
So, if a parent wants to surrender their infant, we’re encouraging parents to consider going to a hospital and actually delivering and surrendering.
Connie Going: Right.
Jean Hoffman: And we do that because, we named this law Safe Delivery of Newborns because we were concerned not only about the infant’s health, but about the mom’s health as well. So, we wanted to encourage any individual who found themselves in this maybe panic state of denial or desperation about this pregnancy, to be able to also get appropriate medical care for themselves.
Connie Going: Absolutely.
Jean Hoffman: Yeah. What we found over the last several years is that women are willing to go into the hospital and deliver and surrender, and more often than not, at least providing some basic background information and/or their name. But we do treat that confidentially. So, that’s not released in any public documents whatsoever.
Connie Going: So, I mean, in adoption, we know how important it is to get medical information, so adding that in has I’m sure enabled adoptive families to really go into adopting a child with, who they don’t have a lot on, but they would have the medical history, that’s so important.
Jean Hoffman: Absolutely. We don’t always have a lot of information, but we at least have some. And it’s important to the infant, too, in later years to, if they have questions about their biological family that we have at least some information that we can share with them down the road. And we do tell the surrendering parent that they can provide, we have a central adoption registry, which is a place where individuals who are adoptees or who have surrendered or adopted their child, they can go to the central adoption registry and share updated information and/or also obtain information about their birth families.
Connie Going: Okay.
Jean Hoffman: So, that’s available to them. Again, with a surrender, we don’t have a lot of information, but should the parent later, surrendering parent later down the road decide that they’re willing to share more information, that can be recorded with the central adoption registry.
Connie Going: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. And the registry is really important to know, because when a child turns 18, and becoming a legal adult, they can then register and it will connect the two parties.
Jean Hoffman: Correct.
Connie Going: Is that how that works?
Jean Hoffman: Yes. Right.
Connie Going: So, what would the difference be for a mom who’s coming in, she’s delivering her child, and as she’s delivering, she’s like, “I’m not keeping this child. I want to place this child for adoption,” and the difference between utilizing the Safe Delivery program or having the social worker at the hospital hand her a list of adoption agencies?
Jean Hoffman: When a mom makes the statement that she wants to pursue adoption, really Safe Delivery shouldn’t even be discussed at that point, because we want to encourage moms to go through a traditional adoption for all the reasons that we’ve just been talking about. You get the medical background, you can make some choices about whether it’s an open or closed adoption. The level of involvement of the family, which is so much better for both sides. It’s only when we see a parent who is coming in and saying, “I don’t want this child. I’m not taking it.” They’re obviously in some kind of distress about giving birth and about being a parent.
We’ve encouraged our hospital social workers and the nursing staff that might be working with these parents to pursue the traditional adoption, but if they see that panic and distress and then bring up that they do have this option of Safe Delivery and surrendering anonymously.
Connie Going: That’s wonderful. Have they found that birth mothers have come in and delivered and then left the hospital and left the child there without really even communicating what they were doing?
Jean Hoffman: In the early years, we had a few of the surrendering parents come in. One I can think of gave a fictitious name and left the hospital right away, so there really wasn’t, but in the last really I’d say eight years, the parents who are surrendering are making a conscious decision and are working with the social work staff and/or the adoption agency staff that come in to make the best decision for them.
Connie Going: Okay.
Jean Hoffman: They’re not necessarily staying a long time at the hospital, but they are at least staying long enough to talk to a professional about their options.
Connie Going: That’s great. And tell me a little bit about then does the child then … So, the child is born and the mom says, “I want to enact the Safe Delivery program,” how is an adoption agency either then selected or contacted? How does that work?
Jean Hoffman: We did a survey early on and identified Michigan’s child placing agencies in the private sector who were willing to accept and place a surrendered newborn, and so not all of Michigan’s adoption agencies will place a surrendered newborn.
Connie Going: Wow.
Jean Hoffman: But for those that chose to do that, we have a directory that is available to the hospitals that lists the agencies by county, but also many of those agencies will serve the whole state.
Connie Going: Right.
Jean Hoffman: So, we have them listed as statewide agencies, plus then they would all be listed under their counties or the counties that they serve. And hospitals, we developed early on what we call the response and resource handbook for emergency service providers, and that handbook provides all the background information, checklist, flow charts, the forms that we use to obtain voluntary medical background, a voluntary release form, transfer forms once the adoption agency is identified.
So, that is where the agency directory is located. So, the hospitals will, they’re usually familiar with agencies that they work with in their communities, and if they’re not, they’ll use that directory to identify who they will work with, and if there are multiple agencies in a county, we encourage the hospital to think about doing it on a rotation basis.
Connie Going: Okay.
Jean Hoffman: And then-
Connie Going: And that sounds very subjective, yes.
Jean Hoffman: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you, Connie.
Connie Going: To the hospitals, that’s very subjective because you want to spread it among agencies, but they really, at least in my experience in downtown Florida is they go with who they have the relationships with and they trust. So, I definitely have seen, I don’t know if that happens up there, but that definitely happens here.
Jean Hoffman: I’m reasonably confident that happens here, certainly because the agencies who are interested in placing a surrendered newborn, they do a lot of outreach with their local hospitals to let them know they’re available, and those that are most active make sure that they have the 24 hour coverage, because things happen after hours and work hours, as well on weekends. So, you’re absolutely right that the agencies that the hospitals generally work with the best are the ones who are probably contacted.
Connie Going: Well, I know Adoption Associates has had a very successful time with the Safe Delivery program, and I’ve talked to families personally that have adopted from AI and have received a child through the Safe Delivery program, and it is a, it’s a wonderful way to save, I believe you’re saving children who would be abandoned and may not make it in those first 72 hours, depending on the situation. And it also takes away a lot of the, I think that the technical pieces that might go to that.
Now, previously to this law, were children then put into foster care when this happened?
Jean Hoffman: Yes. They were. Children’s protective services would be involved and conduct an investigation and that would be part of the process, placing the child in foster care, exactly. [crosstalk 00:15:09]
Connie Going: Go ahead.
Jean Hoffman: We drafted the legislation knowing that we wanted these infants to be placed as quickly as possible with an adoptive family, so I would say unless there’s any medical complications, most infants are placed in less than 24 hours after the surrender.
Connie Going: That’s wonderful. Because we know that children in foster care, the time that it takes to even get through that termination, in Florida, we’re pretty proactive, but ours can start at six months, so you’re looking at a time where if the foster family is not an adoptive family, you have a lot of trauma there through movements, and really this just ensures the child is given straight to the adoptive family with not as many, I think, complications that would come with having a child go into foster care.
And our foster care system is very full at this time, so it makes it difficult.
Jean Hoffman: Absolutely right, yeah. [crosstalk 00:16:21]
Connie Going: The taxpayers are saving money having this statute enacted also, too.
Jean Hoffman: Correct, ’cause they go with the family right away, so there is no funding that’s required.
Connie Going: I absolutely think it’s just a, it was a fabulous concept and the fact that Michigan has had it really since 2001 goes to say just how much it’s needed. How many children in that time, and I saw some numbers, but I wanted to hear from you, how many children during that time have been surrendered?
Jean Hoffman: We’ve had a total of 158, and that is a number as of really July 31st. I collect the data every quarter, so there may be some additional ones in this final quarter of the state’s fiscal year.
Connie Going: Okay. And then for most of these, it looks like they were surrendered at a hospital.
Jean Hoffman: Right.
Connie Going: So, that means [inaudible 00:17:27].
Jean Hoffman: Right. 153 of the 158 have been at a hospital, and a majority of the 153 are women who have gone in and delivered and surrendered versus bringing the infant to the hospital.
Connie Going: Okay. Or keeping it a secret, having that child at home, then taking the child in. And then you’ve had a few at like fire departments and police stations.
Jean Hoffman: Right.
Connie Going: But not nearly as many as hospital. So, that’s just [inaudible 00:18:02].
Jean Hoffman: We did develop early on when back in 2005, we worked with a graphic designer to get a logo and a tagline, and we do have signage that we distribute for free to our emergency service providers so that they can either have a static cling sign in a window, or an aluminum sign on the exterior of their building designating them as a Safe Delivery site. And we’re working with our 911 responders to do some additional training with them and at this point, we have not had any parent call 911 to surrender, but I’m thinking that as we do more promotion of that, we may see that happen a little bit more.
But we really do push in any of our training with community partners that they stress the importance of the mom’s health and if she has had no prenatal care, at least if she goes in and delivers, then any complications she might encounter will be dealt with.
Connie Going: Absolutely. Now, in the time that this was in place, I don’t know a number, but have there still been children that have passed away because they were abandoned somewhere that wasn’t a Safe Delivery location?
Jean Hoffman: Sadly, I have to say yes. We have no singular way of tracking the numbers, however, most of the incidences where an infant has either been abandoned or murdered by the parent, it does hit the media, and I do try to track at least through the media when these tragic events happen in the hopes of trying to figure out how do we educate the public about the Safe Delivery law, and I know that a parent who is in that state of denial or panic and desperation, they might not be cognizant of thinking, “Oh, there’s a law, and I’ll give birth, and that’ll be the end of it.”
But through our education efforts that we keep promoting, we’re feeling that the more people who actually know about the law and at least know the basics of the procedures to follow, they usually are good individuals, friends or family members who might suspect the individual is pregnant, and even though they’re maybe denying it, they can maybe offer that information to the person in a kind and soft way of saying, “Just in case, you have this option,” you know.
So, we keep trying to figure out a variety of ways that we can continue to educate the people of the state of Michigan about this available choice, and it’s challenging, Connie.
Connie Going: I can imagine. I can imagine. What are some of your outreach … so that we can tell the people who are tuned in live now that are also going to, as we push this radio interview out, who can go back and listen to it later, what are your outreach methods right now?
Jean Hoffman: Well, in addition to our handbooks and toolkits that we have for our emergency service providers, for the public we have free resources. We have posters, we have wallet cards, we have videos. We have a Safe Delivery website through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. We do, the consultants who work with us part time do exhibits at local conferences or any statewide conferences. We have an educational outreach person who is making contact with middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities, and introducing the educator toolkit that can be used in health class.
And it is in Michigan, I’ll just digress for a moment, the Safe Delivery law is a part of Michigan’s model program, so it is required to be introduced in schools.
Connie Going: That is amazing and wonderful. I think that the fact that that’s being shared has to make a difference.
Jean Hoffman: Right. And the toolkit makes it really easy for … our health teachers have been very proactive in sharing information with their students about Safe Delivery and we’ve given them games and situation cards and so forth that they can just try out in a classroom and they don’t have to make it lat a long time, but we did get some feedback from one of the educators that the student thought, we actually had real stories included in the toolkit that we abstracted from the media, and the teacher reported back to us and she said the students all went, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen.” So they had thought we made it up. So, they were shocked to learn that this does happen and that they need to know about the options available in this situation, and teachers are, it’s not only introducing Safe Delivery, but it’s also talking about traditional adoption is the best choice and if not, then safe delivery is another option.
But the free resources, anybody can go to the website, which is at Michigan.gov/safedelivery, and see all of the resources that are available. There are order forms there that they can request any of our pamphlets to distribute in the community and we have the Safe Delivery consultants can be reached. We have a hotline, which is 866-733-7733. So, there are ways for our community partners and/or individuals to help us spread the word. Any of those resources that they would call, we will get information to them and work with them on just making sure that the message is the same and consistent. But it just really takes a huge number of people within the state to promote awareness. It can’t be just, you know, a few part time employees.
Connie Going: No, you almost need ambassadors who will step in. So, if I was in your community and say I was looking for something to volunteer, I could contact you and become a safe delivery trainer, become someone who wanted to really get this word out, became passionate about it. You would be open to that?
Jean Hoffman: Absolutely. We’ll do any kind of training, go anywhere in the state to do that. And one of the resources that I’m currently working on and just about finished with is a community outreach and advocacy toolkit, which individuals and/or community partners could use as a reference of what to do and how to do it and where to get the resources that are available to them. So, I think that final toolkit, at least I think it’s the final toolkit, will be a good way, and I’m pretty sure we’re not gonna have printed copies of that, but we’ll put it on the website so sections could be downloaded.
So, I’m kind of excited about that ’cause I’m hoping to recruit more people. I want to touch base with sororities and fraternities and service organizations, and domestic violence shelters, and pregnancy counseling centers. All of those groups can help us. The faith based community, school projects. I mean, they could go out in local areas and they could check with their local fire departments and police stations to say, “Do you have your free resource materials if you were gonna accept a surrendered newborn?” Or I think the face of Safe Delivery oftentimes will be better met with maybe younger spokespersons who would communicate more directly with young teens and young adults, ’cause what we do find, interestingly enough, I think when we first worked on the legislation, we were all thinking this was all gonna be teenagers. But the average age has stayed relatively stable throughout all these years at around 25 or 26.
Connie Going: Okay.
Jean Hoffman: So, in Michigan, I think our ages were from 15 to 42 surrendering.
Connie Going: Okay. That’s really, I mean, and I think it’s basically people have misperceptions about birth mothers and adoption, they think they’re going to be some high school girl or college girl, and what we’ve learned of course, for those of us who have been around adoption for so many years, and domestic adoption is that you really have all different types of scenarios. It could be a mom that has already had her children, or it could be a couple, but people that are making this choice for adoption as birth parents, this truly unselfish choice is we really can’t put it down to what, I mean it’s like people have images of what that looks like, and it truly isn’t that.
Have you done any type of a, kind of like a media blitz through like billboards, buses? Is there like a … like if I came to Michigan, would I be able to see this in certain areas? Have you targeted any of that?
Jean Hoffman: We haven’t done like billboards. It’s a very costly endeavor.
Connie Going: It is.
Jean Hoffman: And we have extremely limited budget, really limited budget. And so I think what we’ve focused on is awareness through our signage, but recently, we tried again. Over the years, we’ve tried a number of different media events and usually it’s always been in the month of April, which is Child Abuse Prevention month, and this year, we did do, had the governor proclaim Safe Delivery of Newborns day on April 20th. And what we focused on was again trying to target more of that younger population that is into the social media.
So, we have as part of our community outreach and advocacy toolkit, we had a communications section, and I worked with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to perfect that communication effort in terms of various postings that could be on social media, and that’s currently on the website, but that’s what we did on April 20th. We worked with our community partners around the state and any agencies that were willing to work with us to do kind of a social media blast, and just create that awareness.
Connie Going: Do you have a Facebook page for this?
Jean Hoffman: We work with, again, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on a Facebook and we do have a YouTube, so we’re trying to right now currently think about ways to keep that updated, ’cause as you know, you need to have some current information or something that’s useful that can be shared. So, we’re trying to think about what it is we want that kind of social media to do for us. So, it’s a little in transition at this point.
Connie Going: I think that one of the things that I’ve learned, like yourself, over the years with social media is that it is so, so, so powerful when it comes to reaching out and telling stories, staying in the moment. I find like things that are happening, children are tuning in. They’re tuning into Vimeo. That’s the little short little, they’re little videos, like three second videos. And to reach out to kind of Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and letting people know that this exists, it’s almost like it has to become a buzz word for people to know, “Oh, yeah, I know what that is. I know what that is.”
Jean Hoffman: Right.
Connie Going: And just talking. Do you ever, like you said you have young people, do you ever have clients that have gone through this, but were willing to stay public and do any type of stories?
Jean Hoffman: Families have generally been a little bit reluctant to do that.
Connie Going: I would imagine, it’s almost impossible, but just asking.
Jean Hoffman: Yeah. Not that we haven’t asked a couple of people, and we’ve had a few people who have participated in some of our past efforts at awareness. We’ve talked about identifying an individual who was identified and charged with abandonment and/or open murder, and wondering, “Gee, should we try to interview that person to see what we could’ve done differently?”
Connie Going: That’s fascinating. As a listener, as somebody who … I would want to know, you know, if you had this option, would you have taken it?
Jean Hoffman: Right. Right. It’s a tough situation that Oprah Winfrey, several years ago, did do an interview with a teenager who had been charged with murder. Actually, it was like two or three years after the infant was born. They were able to identify the parent and I think in hindsight, we all say, yeah, we would’ve done things differently. But when you’re in that moment of panic and “What do I do? And I don’t want anybody to know,” I’m not sure you’re always thinking clearly.
Connie Going: Yeah, I agree.
Jean Hoffman: But it would still be interesting to talk to someone who maybe would even become a spokesperson, saying, “This is what happened to me.”
Connie Going: That would be an absolute, I mean to be able to find somebody to share, I mean I believe that storytelling is how people listen the most.
Jean Hoffman: Exactly.
Connie Going: [crosstalk 00:34:27] social media to do that. And it could be someone who blacks out their face and holds up white cards and tells their story. But I think it’s very powerful. I think another thing that’s very powerful are families who’ve adopted. I was truly touched by the family who had been blessed to receive a child through this program because they had been as a family through two major disappointments in their adoption journey, and as a family that had fertility issues for years, and they held the faith the whole time. They’re an amazing family. They never gave up, they believed that their child was out there. And so when the child came to the agency, they were top on the list for a child. So, that was really exciting.
Jean Hoffman: Sure. Sure. And we do have a testimonial as part of our video package of a parent who had a surrendered newborn placed with her, and they had I think the same thing, the fertility issues, and a student that we had working with us for a while, it was her pastor who had adopted a surrendered newborn. So, now that the law has been in effect for, gosh where are we? 13, 14 years? More and more, I run into people who know somebody who adopted. So, you know, it’s very touching to hear it’s been a success. And we have not had any problems identified that I’m aware of that any of the agencies have encountered so, I’m just really, just thrilled to know that families were there and are raising their children and loving their children, and these children have a future.
Connie Going: Absolutely. Because you know, I don’t think that we’ll ever have a shortage of families who want to step up and care for children, and commit and love children. I think, and I believe this from domestic and international all the way through child welfare dependency adoptions from foster care, it’s our job in certain instances to make the connection and to make a case, and in certain areas, it’s more difficult. But truly, what the state delivery program has done is given a way to cut through the time, the wait, the trauma, the red tape, and really give a child a great opportunity to move forward quickly, and to give the birth parents a chance to not be punitively punished.
Jean Hoffman: Right.
Connie Going: You know, and that is just what’s so exciting. So, is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Jean Hoffman: Well, just encourage listeners to become our community advocates if they can and take advantage of the free resources that are available to do that in the communities, and as I said, we are happy to work with any group or individual and we’ll travel to where they are to help and do as much as we can to keep that public awareness out there, because it needs to be not just today but tomorrow and the next day. It’s an ongoing process, and we need spokespeople out there who are passionate and willing to reach out to their community leaders and organizations and church groups, and schools, and carry the positive word that this is an option when traditional adoption is not.
Connie Going: I think it’s amazing. Is there a way that, I mean, they can just Google “Michigan state delivery program”, they can go to the state website. Is there a phone number that you have? A hotline?
Jean Hoffman: We do have the hotline, and that is, the number is 866-733-7733.
Connie Going: Okay. Terrific. For those of you who are listening, that is a number you can reach out to. I want to thank you, Jean, for being here. I want to thank Adoption Associates for sponsoring this amazing adoption blog talk, it’s called Adoption Focus. My name is Connie Going. I’m privileged to be a consultant with Adoption Associates and to spread the message and to educate about adoption, and they can be reached at 1-800-677-2367 or www.adoptionassociates.net. And Jean, just thank you again for your time today and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
Jean Hoffman: Thanks so much, Connie. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today.
Connie Going: Okay. Take care.
Jean Hoffman: All right. Bye bye.
Connie Going: Bye bye.