Woman campaigns to introduce baby boxes in the UK

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Toyin Odumala, 22, says she wants an end to babies being left on the street
By Victoria Cook
BBC News

A woman who was abandoned as a baby is campaigning to introduce baby boxes in the UK.

Toyin Odumala’s online petition says the idea – in place across the US, China and Europe – enables parents who cannot care for their child to leave them in a safe place.

Her petition comes after a baby girl was recently found left in a shopping bag in Newham, east London.

The government has said it is investing in NHS England’s maternity services.

Born in July 2001, Toyin was wrapped in a denim jacket by her mother and, with her umbilical cord still attached, left outside a block of flats in Plumstead, south-east London.

Dog walkers found her and raised the alarm.

Now 22, Toyin says she wants an end to babies being left on the street.

“This is still happening. So it’s an issue. And it needs to stop. We need to stop this,” she says.

Toyin was discovered at the top of a flight of stairs, by a block of flats, in Plumstead in 2001

Toyin says she was 11 when her adoptive parents told her what had really happened to her when she was born.

She says: “I just felt like, why was I abandoned? Why did this happen to me? I just always blame myself, like, am I not enough?

“I always had questions I just didn’t understand.”

Toyin learned that she had been left outside at the top of a flight of stairs, leading to a block of flats.

She says she has never met the dog walkers who discovered her, but she would like to.

She was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, south-east London, where the nurses named her Osie after the registrar who was on duty.

Although her adoptive parents changed her first name, she still has Osie as a middle name.

Nurse Beatrice Narh-Saam helped care for Toyin in hospital

Toyin explains that she was placed into care for four months before her parents adopted her.

She says they had hoped to adopt a baby and “they wanted to take me in and just give me that love, which they still give to me today”.

When Toyin discovered her true past, she was given the opportunity to make contact with her birth mother, who had previously come forward following an appeal.

Toyin wrote a letter and received a reply, in which her mother explained she did not have the “correct papers” to stay in the UK, so thought she would have to return to the Ivory Coast.

But Toyin says the letter then revealed her mother now resides in the UK, and she has four half-siblings.

When asked if she would like to meet her mother, Toyin says she is conflicted, but “as of now, it’s not something I want to do”.

Toyin says her adoptive parents wanted to take her in and “just give me that love, which they still give to me today”

Instead Toyin says she is focused on making changes for abandoned children in the future.

She says reading the story of baby Elsa, who was abandoned in Newham, “brought back all the pain”.

Toyin’s online petition is based on an idea established across the United States and has already attracted more than 30,000 signatures.

The hatches are installed at designated locations such as hospitals and fire stations.

They are temperature-controlled and have a sensor which alerts emergency services to a baby being placed inside.

In addition to this, in every US state, a parent abandoning a baby is given protection from prosecution if using a hatch, as long as the baby is well.

“Baby hatches” are used across Europe, but divide opinion

It is not known how many babies are abandoned in the UK every year, but researchers have previously estimated it is about 16.

Save the Children’s impact director Dan Paskins says Toyin’s petition is to be commended and she is a “remarkable person in challenging circumstances”.

However, he says the baby hatch scheme is not supported by charities such as Save the Children as it contradicts advice from The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The UN has said the boxes “contravene the right of the child to be known and cared for by his or her parents”.

Save the Children says it would like to see “more help and support for families to prevent poverty and other problems, so no baby is abandoned and every child has the best start in life”.

‘Tackling disparities’

Toyin says she hopes the online campaign on change.org will continue to receive more signatures, and hopes it will prompt the government to consider the idea.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not comment on the petition but said improving care before, during and after pregnancy was one of its “top priorities”.

It said mental health services around England were being expanded to include new mental health hubs for new, expectant or bereaved mothers.

Specialist community perinatal mental health services had also been rolled out in every part of England.

“We are investing £165m per year, rising to £186m from April, to grow the maternity workforce and improve neonatal care across England as well as putting £6.8m towards tackling disparities in maternity care to ensure all mothers-to-be feel safe during and after giving birth,” a DHSC spokesperson added.

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