CommunityHamil R. Harris

D.C. Health Officials and Faith Leaders Offer Assistance in the Wake of Multiple Infant Deaths

When they come upon the scene of a dead child or a teenager, even the most hard-edged police officer turns ashen. When the deceased is an infant or toddler, the reaction is often bitter tears. So, when D.C. Metropolitan Police initially arrested and charged a 37-year-old D.C mother of a missing 2-month-old, they charged her with felony murder on Friday, May 14. Then the charges were dropped when they learned she was addicted to drugs.

Three days later, a dead infant was found inside a plastic bag in a trash can at a doctor’s office building adjacent to the Washington Hospital Center around 7:45 am, officers at the scene choked back emotion.

That’s why police eagerly invoke the infant Safe Haven Law, enacted in 1999 as an incentive for mothers in crisis to safely relinquish their babies to designated locations in D.C.

Last Friday on WIN-TV with Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, Brenda Donald, director of the D.C. Department of Child and Family Services Agency, talked about the range of services her agency offers and she talked about how “safe havens” are managed in the District.

“In a couple of those situations, the mothers decided that they made a mistake and they really wanted to be able to take care of their kids,” Donald said. “We connected them to resources to make sure that they were able to care for their kids. In the other two situations, the babies were surrendered and were adopted.”

For those contemplating giving up their children, Donald said, “You don’t have to answer questions, you can go to any hospital, it’s called a safe haven. We have all sorts of resources. In the last 14 to 15 months, we have had people with all sorts of issues, unemployment issues, multiple children at home, a lot of stressors on top of normal stressors and you can feel overwhelmed. We have mental health services, we have visiting programs to help you become a parent, we have mentoring programs…and we have programs where parents can share and be part of a community.”

For parents in need of help can call the child abuse hotline, 202-671-7233.

Across the Washington area children are dying at the hands of adults and, according to physicians, lawyers and pastors a primary culprit is COVID-19 and the stress it causes.

“Everybody is not a mother and doesn’t want to be one,“ said Bishop Sybil Davis Williams, pastor of the Faith Outreach Center and day care in Brentwood. This Mother’s Day, her sermon was titled, “A house doesn’t make a home without communications and love.” She said, “A mother is a person who makes a happy home, a healthy home, and a whole home.”

Dr. Yolandra Hancock, pediatrician and professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, said troublesome outcomes deepened during the spread of the coronavirus.

“In terms of the pandemic, we know that nationally when children presented with a concern for child abuse, their symptoms were much more severe amid COVID. Teachers and primary care providers [who normally] discover marks were not in place because children were at home,” Hancock said.

Rev. Jo-Ann Browning, co-pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, has two children and several grandchildren. She had a special message and opportunity for mothers.

“Do not dismiss the legacy that has been passed down from generations because it is a foundation to build upon,” Browning said. “We are living in a time when generations look to social media as their means to get information, and that is why we have been hosting spiritual retreats and a restoration conference. We will be having a retreat this year entitled God is a wonder to build up the spiritual woman.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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