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City Council implements Knights of Columbus "safe haven" program

March 16, 2017
BERLIN – During a March 6 City Council Work Session, the Council unanimously voted in favor of implementing a "safe haven" program facilitated by the Knights of Columbus. The Council also approved applying for a drug-free community grant.

After Mayor Paul Grenier opened up the meeting, Knights of Columbus (K of C) Grand Knight Don Huot reported to the Council that K of C is a Catholic fraternity society that supports charitable services and provides financial support for families in need. One of the programs facilitated is an offering of "safe havens" for unwanted babies.

Huot indicated that 70 infants were abandoned nationally "in various unsafe places."

The Knights are facilitating drop off stations, "safe havens," in public buildings and asked the council for permission to post signs at each building. The public buildings would have signs creating awareness of the "safe haven." The program is designed to have the buildings fully staffed 24 hours per day where an unwanted baby can be dropped off without questions asked.

NH RSA 132-A states that "A hospital or safe haven, without a court order, shall take temporary care and control of a child who is not more than seven days old, provided that the child is handed to a person at the hospital or safe haven by the child's parent or parents, and the parent or parents did not express an intent to return for the child. The child's parent or parents shall not be required to reveal personally identifiable information. A hospital or safe haven which takes temporary care and control of a child under this chapter shall ensure the provision of any medical services necessary to protect the physical health or safety of the child."

The law outlines that "safe havens" are to be set up at churches, hospitals, fire stations, police stations and ambulance stations. Staff at the "safe havens" assumes temporary care of the infant until the Department of Health and Human Services is called in.

The K of C asked the council permission to post the signs at various public buildings. The program is unfunded but the K of C will pay for the signage.

Grenier pointed out that the ambulance owns their own building and that the owners would have to be contacted for permission.

Grenier added that implementing the program would be at no cost to the City, and it is not a liability.

Councilor Peter Higbee asked if staff would be trained for the tasks. Councilor Roland Theberge said he will work with the fire department "to establish a protocol."

Councilor Diana Nelson noted that the fire station could be without staff if the department is responding to an emergency call. It was confirmed that would be addressed in the protocol.

The whole council voted in favor of implementing the program and having signs installed at the police station. After a protocol is established, signage would be installed at the fire station.

Community Development Director Pam Laflamme stated that the K of C would supply the signs and Public Works would install.

Theberge clarified that the "safe haven" program "is open to all and there are no refusals."

In other business, the Council voted all-in-favor in applying for a drug-free communities grant. The national grant would provide $125,000 per year for five years to staff a qualified person dedicated to working on prevention strategies in the community. If the grant is approved, the City would be responsible for matching the grant with "in-kind" services or cash.

Nelson stated that after five years the City "would own the unemployment claim." Laflamme indicated that the City could re-apply for the grant at the end of the five-year period.

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