Infant Safe Haven Laws

Many women who become pregnant unintentionally find it very difficult to decide what to do next. There are the obvious choices of abortion, adoption, and motherhood; but what happens if a woman chooses motherhood and then realizes that she is unable to properly care for the child? In some cases, mothers have abandoned their babies in unsafe locations, leading to the infant’s death. In America, the Infant Safe Haven Laws were created to combat infant neglect and protect newborn children by offering parents an alternative to criminal abandonment. Now all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have forms of Infant Safe Haven legislation.1

 

What are the Infant Safe Haven Laws?

The Infant Safe Haven Laws started going into effect in the United States around 1999, with each state developing their own time frames, age limits, and Safe Haven locations. The purpose of the laws is to create spaces for mothers in crisis to safely surrender their babies to designated locations in their communities. At these locations, the babies will be protected and provided with proper medical care until a stable environment is found.1 The Infant Safe Haven Laws allow the parent—or in some states, a representative of the parent—to remain anonymous and to be protected from criminal charges and prosecution for child endangerment in exchange for surrendering the baby to a Safe Haven.1 When choosing to surrender a baby to a Safe Haven, the parent will also be renouncing their parental rights to the child.

 

Who Are Safe Haven Providers?

The purpose of Safe Havens is to provide locations for the baby to receive urgent care. To accommodate this, Safe Haven providers are usually public service locations such as fire stations, police stations, and emergency rooms. These locations may also include churches, health care clinics, or other places a state considers safe and acceptable.

 

What Is the Process?

When a baby is taken to a Safe Surrender location, the parent will not be asked any personal questions as long as the child shows no signs of abuse. In some states, the parent may be asked a few questions about their name, their own and their child’s medical history, and family history. Any parental information given remains confidential and is only used to ensure that the child can be properly treated. However, the parent is not required to release any information. As soon as the child is surrendered, the Safe Haven officials will provide any medical care the infant may need. The local child welfare department will then be notified of the surrendered infant.2 Then, the infant may stay at the Safe Haven location for a period of time or transferred to a foster home.

 

What If the Parent Changes Their Mind?

While it is rare for a parent to change their mind once they have forfeited the infant to a Safe Haven, some states allow the parent to reclaim custody of their baby within a certain time period after the surrender. Ranging from 14 days to 30 days, these waiting periods allow time for the parent to speak with the authorities about making arrangements for the baby.3 However, it is important to check your state’s specific law as it may differ from others.

 

 

If you know a parent who may be in need of the Safe Surrender services, you can find a Safe Haven location near you at https://www.nationalsafehavenalliance.org/maps/

This web page also contains detailed information on the laws pertaining to each state. You may also call the 24/7 Safe Haven Hotline 1-888-510-BABY or 1-888-510-2229 to obtain details on the address and directions to the closest Safe Haven in your state.4

 

Concluding Remarks

We hope that this article is useful in helping you understand the Infant Safe Haven Laws in America. You should not feel pressured into thinking this is the only option or the right option for you. While pregnant, you may still choose option of abortion. Once the child is born, you may consider the options of adoption and parenthood, in addition to safely surrendering the child. If you are hesitant about choosing this process or you feel this option is right for you, you may reference the services above.

 

References

  1. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017). Infant safe haven laws. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau.
  2.  “Safely Surrendered Baby.” California Department of Social Services, The Office of Child Abuse Prevention.
  3. “Safe Surrender.” Advokids: A Legal Resource for California Foster Children and Their Advocates.
  4. “NSHA LAWS.” Safe Haven Laws by State | Baby Safe Haven.

Last updated: 2 May 2019.

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