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What happens to Indiana's 'Safe Haven' babies?

Posted: 11:10 PM, Apr 29, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-29 23:50:11-04

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Since the beginning of the year, three babies have been dropped off at fire stations and hospitals – left by their families with first responders.

Every time it happens, thousands share the story on Facebook – which got us asking: What happens to those babies; and how does the Safe Haven law work?

Brian and Eden Gildea are quick to tell you their 11-year-old son, and only child, Austin completes their family. But, the emotions from a five-year journey trying to conceive are still fresh.

After the ups and downs, the couple turned to adoption.

"It was very difficult," Eden said. "You go through the process of the procedures and everything, and you get your hopes up thinking it's going to happen this time, and it doesn't."

Above: Brian and Eden Gildea

But a phone call in 2005 changed everything.

A baby boy had been given up anonymously at a Fort Wayne hospital.

"We'd had another adoption – we had been selected by another birth mother, and that didn't go through," Eden said. "We had some reservations."

The concern turned to joy, though, when the couple saw the baby. He weighed just under five pounds.

"He was the smallest little thing," Brian said. "I remember I could put my fingers around his mid-section and they'd touch."

"It's amazing how your maternal instincts just kick in from the very beginning," Eden said. "I was very protective of him. I wanted to take care of him and make him ours."

Doctors think Austin was born six weeks early. He was dropped off without any paperwork or medical history.

Austin is one of 31 babies who have been given up in Indiana since the Safe Haven law took effect in 2001. He and his parents want to share their story to draw attention to the option.

"The more awareness we can raise and hopefully save multiple lives, that's the benefit to us, because that's how we're parents to Austin," Eden said.

More than a decade later, Austin is grateful for his parents, and his past.

"When you are adopted, they love you more than sometimes your birth parents, because they truly want to take care of you," Austin said.

Above: Austin Gildea

The Indiana Safe Haven law allows people to surrender babies up to 30 days old at hospitals, police or fire stations.

But, there is a long process for what happens next.

Once a baby is dropped off at a safe place, the agency is required to contact the Department of Child Services immediately.

DCS representatives check the baby's health and look for any signs of abuse. They find a foster family to take care of the baby in the short term. Then, they post notices in the local newspaper to give the birth parents a chance to come forward.

A clearing house for missing children is checked, and DCS files a report with the court to start the adoption process.

The whole process can take four to six months.

MORE | Man drops off baby at Lafayette hospital in first case of Safe Haven law this year | Police search for mother of newborn child abandoned at North Vernon church | Should Indiana promote Safe Haven signage? | Second baby left with IFD under Safe Haven law