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Angel's Cradle proposal at Sanctum group home resonates with Saskatoon physician

By Girard Hengen

Dr. John Dosman steps into the Sanctum 1.5 prenatal care home near St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon. It’s buzzing with activity.

Ten high-risk or HIV-positive mothers who otherwise might have had their infants apprehended at birth are caring for their children, with help from staff at the home. Three weeks before his visit, Dr. Dosman delivered one of those babies.

His affinity for Sanctum 1.5 runs deeper, though. Abandoned at birth, he supports the proposal by the Sanctum board to build an “Angel’s Cradle” in the care home. An Angel’s Cradle would enable a baby to be dropped off safely and anonymously into the care of the home, and ultimately, the provincial foster system.

The planned Angel’s Cradle has hit a few snags – mainly from questions raised by the Social Services Ministry – and the Sanctum board is still studying the proposal.

“The reaction of the Social Services Ministry was: ‘We have a way for people to give up care through adoption.’ They didn’t want people to bypass that and they are rightfully concerned about the rights of children to be able to know their birth family when they turn 18, to know some medical family history, to know some ethnic family history, which I get,” Dr. Dosman, a Saskatoon family physician, told the SMA.

“I don’t have any of that. But I’m here.”

The proposed Angel’s Cradle at Sanctum 1.5 took on added urgency in early November following the discovery of a deceased newborn in a downtown Saskatoon recycling bin.

“That’s the gap,” said Dr. Dosman. “We’re not here to replace the normal processes and we don’t think many, or any, moms or parents would forego traditional processes just to do this because it’s easier. This is for women who are in crisis, who are alone, they don’t have support, who knows what’s going on.”

He noted Angel’s Cradles exist in downtown Vancouver at St. Paul’s Hospital, where three babies have been left in the nine years it has been in place, and at two hospitals in Edmonton, where one baby has been abandoned in five years.

“This (in Saskatoon) might never get used. It’s not a huge cost, and if it gets used once that would be worth it. But if it never gets used it’s still part of the mandate of Sanctum and it just says to the community that we support women, we support women in whatever choices they have, wherever they are in their life. And we will support and care for their kids.”

‘Baby Joey’ a media sensation

Dr. Dosman could have been an Angel’s Cradle baby, had such a thing existed at St. Paul’s Hospital in 1978. He was dropped off at a side entrance to the hospital as a newborn, and became something of a cause celebre.

“Apparently I was the first such case in Saskatoon,” Dr. Dosman said from the cafeteria in the hospital, not far from the location of that side entrance, which has since been covered over the years by hospital expansions.

He was adopted into a family of four sisters by Dr. Jim Dosman. After four girls the Dosmans wanted a boy and went through the adoption process. While at Emma Lake working the land he had just purchased, Jim Dosman saw a story in the newspaper about “Baby Joey.” When Jim Dosman saw his social worker that summer he asked, “What about that guy?” In the fall he got a call from social services about “that guy.”

“I don’t remember being told I was adopted,” John Dosman said. “I always knew. It was never a big deal. My family made it very clear that it wasn’t a big deal - that I was part of the family.”

He didn’t know his life story until he turned 18.

“Even then it was a neat story, because it was such a big deal back in 1978. All my friends who were around my age, all of their parents, especially their moms who were pregnant or just had a newborn, it really hit home with them because they all remembered.”

Dr. Dosman didn’t feel a need to find answers about his birth parents or his ancestry until CTV did a story when he was 30 on his abandonment and adoption. He hoped that might trigger a meeting with his birth family. That story got picked up nationally. He appeared in the Globe and Mail and on Canada AM.

“That kind of started me thinking a bit more about it. It has literally been these last two years with this Angel’s Cradle proposal and me making links with how that plays into my work, the fact that I do obstetrics and I work with a mom and the baby who are now at Sanctum 1.5 - who I delivered three weeks ago - all these links are special.”

Sanctum board studies proposal

The Angel’s Cradle at Sanctum 1.5 was announced at the group home’s grand opening in September 2018. In November of that year, Dr. Dosman presented a resolution to the 2018 Fall Representative Assembly of the Saskatchewan Medical Association asking the SMA board of directors to send letters of support for the Angel’s Cradle to the ministers of social services and health, which the board agreed to do.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Services asked the Sanctum board to defer the Angel’s Cradle so that a committee could be struck to examine the ramifications of the concept. Government officials had concerns over social services and legal issues.

Katelyn Roberts, executive director of Sanctum, the non-profit that operates Sanctum 1.5, which is for women, and Sanctum, its first hospice and care home for people with HIV, said the committee the government wanted was never formed.

The Sanctum board of directors, which met on Dec. 17, received information from Social Services and was asked by the ministry to consider this information before proceeding further. The board is reviewing the request and doing its due diligence before making a decision, which likely won’t happen until the new year, Roberts says.

“Our stance at this point is to provide an Angel’s Cradle as part of the continuum of services that we provide here,” Roberts said. “However we are doing our due diligence with the Ministry of Social Services to ensure that we’ve explored all avenues and risks associated with an Angel’s Cradle.”

If it proceeds, Sanctum aims to have its Angel’s Cradle in place by March 1, 2020. A custom-built crib would be received from a non-profit organization in the United States. It would have a heating system and a series of three sensors to alert staff that a baby has been abandoned. The cradle comes with a 24/7 support line that would provide counselling and support to parents who feel they may need to use it. If they still do, directions would be provided to the cradle.

Dr. Dosman, who is not a member of the Sanctum board, told Roberts he would pay the $20,000 cost of an Angel’s Cradle himself, or help raise the funds. That is why he is willing to re-enter the public eye, 42 years after causing a sensation as “Baby Joey.”

“I can understand some people’s initial reactions that this opens the floodgates or what if this is another example of a way to separate kids from their culture and community and their birth family,” he said. “But that’s not how it has played out. It hasn’t opened the floodgates in places where it is in place, and this replaces, hopefully, kids being unsafely left behind.

“We’ve seen the alternative in the last couple of months. There’s no way to know how often that happens. The only reason it came to light was that someone was looking through the recycling. If it had been in a garbage bin vs. a recycling bin, that baby would not have been found.”

“This isn’t about replacing the current system or the services available,” Roberts added. “Those services exist and they are there for a reason. The only gap that we see that currently exists is that there is no anonymous way to relinquish care of a child, which is essentially what John said, trying to provide an alternative to placing babies in unsafe conditions where anything can happen.”

To donate to Sanctum’s Angle’s Cradle, go to the Sanctum website ( or click here) and specify your donation is for the Angel’s Cradle.

(Photos: Katelyn Roberts, executive director of Sanctum, and Dr. John Dosman, a Saskatoon family physician, inside the Sanctum 1.5 care home on Avenue O South in Saskatoon; Dr. Dosman stands beside the proposed location of an Angel’s Cradle, behind the Santum 1.5 care home; ‘Baby Joey,’ as he was known at the time, at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon; Dr. John Dosman at the Angel’s Cradle located at St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver.)

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