An avenue allowing women to confidentially surrender their newborn - whatever the circumstance - has flown under the radar in Loudon County since its inception as a state law in 2001.
A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee, Inc., a nonprofit organization hoping to educate Tennesseans on the state Safe Haven Law, hopes to change that statistic.
"There hasn't been a great deal of direct involvement in Loudon County," Executive Director Shannon McCloud said. "I would love for someone from Loudon County to get involved, either on the advisory council or board of directors or as just a volunteer - just someone as a point person to hang up posters in the community or just make people more aware."
Billboards, TV commercials and information material and school addresses are just some of the ways the organization has made its presence known in Loudon County, but McCloud believes it's still not enough.
She hopes local women will take advantage of the no-questions-asked law. None have so far.
Tennessee's Safe Haven Law allows mothers who are not willing or able to care for her newborn to confidentially surrender the child without being prosecuted for abandonment.
All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have safe haven laws, according to McCloud, but each varies from state to state.
"The main thing about the law is that babies are being saved. They are not being thrown in dumpsters, they're not being left in trash cans or toilets or under beds in dorm rooms. They are being saved and brought to somewhere safe and the flip side of that is the mothers of these babies who were so desperate, you know, they didn't do something desperate and rash and terrible," McCloud said. "They did the right thing and they have been able to go on and hopefully do something productive with their lives, as well.
"If they had done something desperate and rash and terrible they probably would be in prison right now," she said. "I think it ends up well for the babies and the mothers. I think that's the best part of the law."
In Tennessee, only the mother, no matter how old she is, can anonymously bring her baby to any hospital, birthing center, community health clinic, outpatient walk-in clinic and EMS facility. Fire station and law enforcement facilities are also designated Secret Safe Place facilities across the state but only if staffed 24 hours daily. Only babies three days old or younger can be surrendered.
Loudon County has seven designated locations.
Loudon County Health Department Director Teresa Harrill said even though the local facility has received training on the program and newborn essentials are stored in the event of a surrender, the local health department has not faced a surrender.
"You would hope not but yet you would hope (newborns would be surrendered) if the alternative was something that was bad for the child," Harrill said, adding protocol designates health department employees will contact the regional office if a baby is surrendered.
"I don't really know of any facilities that have. I know both my health departments have signs," Harrill said.
Sixty one newborns across the state have been surrendered since 2004, according to McCloud.
It all started in October 2000 when a newborn baby girl was found dead in a shed in Townsend. Her 14-year-old mother concealed her pregnancy, gave birth alone in her home and abandoned the baby in a neighbor's shed. The baby died of severe dehydration. Her mother was later charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to state custody.
Shortly after the safe haven law was passed, A Secret Safe Place was formed to educate Tennesseans of the law.
"We want to educate young women about the law, about how the law works so that if they find themselves in a situation where they feel they cannot tell anyone about their pregnancy, that they feel like they have to keep it a secret, they know there is a way they can do that and not hurt the baby," McCloud said. "They don't have to do something that they are going to regret later on. That's our main mission."
After a baby is surrendered and receives a checkup from an area hospital, McCloud said the department of child services takes custody and places the baby with an adopted family.
For McCloud, putting a face with the mission makes it all worthwhile. A couple years ago she met the grandfather of an adopted newborn who had been surrendered.
"It was nice because this whole process is confidential and anonymous. We don't get information about the babies or family. We only get numbers. We don't get the sweet happy stories of these families being put together and that's fine," McCloud said. "We are just happy knowing babies are being saved and that they are not being left somewhere and that's great. It is nice when you meet someone who has a story like that one. You know that the law worked the way it was supposed to and the baby has a family.
"If we are able to save one baby then it is worth every effort that we put forth," she added.
Volunteering doesn't have to be a formal relationship to share the word, McCloud stresses.
"It can be a church group who does a poster blitz. Something just that simple can make a huge impact," she said.
But the easiest thing anyone can do, she believes, is just spread the word - send an email with the organization's web address to an entire address book, "like" the organization's Facebook page or share it with a crowd.
For more information on the law, visit online at http://www.secretsafeplacetn.org/
or call the help line at 1-866-699-SAFE(7233).