The grandmother offering a safe haven for babies in need

'Even though there are places to go for help, sometimes women are not thinking clearly enough to find that help': ...
'Even though there are places to go for help, sometimes women are not thinking clearly enough to find that help': Catherine Lucre.  Photo: Seven News

Like most people, Catherine Lucre is left heartbroken when she hears news that a baby has been abandoned or killed by those who are meant to care for them most.

But unlike most others, the former nurse and midwife decided to do something to help desperate parents who feel they have nowhere to turn.

Lucre is the founder of Operation Safe Haven, a 600-strong volunteer organisation of people who offer their homes as a safe place to drop off babies anonymously without fear of consequences.

Catherine Lucre in her Camden home.
Catherine Lucre in her Camden home.  Photo: Fairfax/The Area News

The Sydney grandmother launched the group in November 2014 after two newborn babies were found abandoned on opposite sides of the city just a week apart.  

First, a baby boy was found at the bottom of a drain at the side of the M7 motorway in Quakers Hill after passing cyclists heard the newborn crying. Tragically the second baby, a newborn girl, was already dead when she was discovered buried in the sand dunes at Maroubra beach.

"I thought if there was anything I could do to stop even one baby ending up dead or abandoned, then I had to do it," 56-year-old Mrs Lucre, from Camden in the city's southwest, told Essential Baby.

"I know what it is like to be a mum going through a difficult time after the birth of a baby. It can feel like there is nowhere to turn for help without being judged.

"Even though there are places to go for help, sometimes women are not thinking clearly enough to find that help."

Lucre came up with the idea for the volunteer organisation because Australia does not have safe haven laws which allow desperate families to safely abandon their children without fear of prosecution. 

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In all 50 states of the US, parents are able to anonymously relinquish babies within the first weeks of life, while in many European countries, "baby hatches" in hospitals serve as a place where parents can leave infants without being questioned. 

Mrs Lucre is keen to point out that Operation Safe Haven is not an adoption service - the volunteers who offer their homes as safe drop-off places only keep the baby with them for as long as it takes for police or medical staff to arrive and take care of the child.

While she initially promoted the organisation by placing a bassinet on her own front verandah overnight, Mrs Lucre said it was not necessary for volunteers to have a place for the baby to sleep.

Catherine with one of her grandchildren.
Catherine with one of her grandchildren.  Photo: Supplied

"All you need to do is keep the baby warm and safe until police arrive," she said.

"I tell the volunteers they can give the baby a dummy, but should not feed them any milk as we do not know how old the baby is, whether they are premature and what medical needs they might have."

Any parent or carer wanting to access Operation Safe Haven's services should call Mrs Lucre directly. She will then search her database for a volunteer near the family in need.

"I now have 600 people on my database and I think I have pretty much all of Australia covered," she said.

Mrs Lucre said she had contacted police and the NSW Department of Community of Services and had been assured there was nothing illegal about the service she offers.

Despite having an army of volunteers at the ready, Mrs Lucre has not received a great deal of calls since launching Operation Safe Haven. 

But the recent death of Melbourne toddler Sanaya Sahib has made Mrs Lucre even more determined to spread the word about Operation Safe Haven, so that mothers who find themselves struggling know there is somewhere to turn. One-year-old Sanaya was allegedly killed by her 22-year-old mother Sofina Nikat before being dumped in a creek. 

One woman Mrs Lucre was able to help through Operation Safe Haven was a Victorian mother struggling to care for her three children.

"She called me and I spent time speaking to her over the phone, she just kept saying she didn't want her children anymore," Mrs Lucre said.

"She told me she had already abandoned the children a fews days earlier and that neighbours had called the grandmother to care for them, but she really didn't have much support."

Mrs Lucre was able to help the woman by organising for her to be put in touch with local authorities that could assist her situation.

"I didn't hear what outcome was for the woman but I did my best to make sure her children would be safe."

Anyone wanting to find out more about Catherine Lucre's volunteer organisation can find details on the Operation Safe Haven Facebook Page