What Are Safe Haven Laws?
In 1999 the State of Texas became the first to respond to the rise in infanticide and infant abandonment in the United States. By enacting the “Moses Law”, Texas provided legal protection to mothers who did not want their babies. By delivering her child to a “safe haven” a mother would be protected from prosecution for child abandonment, neglect, or child endangerment. She could remain anonymous, and was provided with an incentive for not harming, abandoning, or murdering her child.
46 other states quickly followed suit, passing safe haven laws which provide this same sense of anonymity and protection for the mother.
The purpose for the baby in this crisis situation is clear: provide him with a safe environment and medical attention until a family can be found.
Who May Leave a Baby?
In most states, a parent may turn a child over to a safe haven. In four states (Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, and Maryland) only the mother may surrender her child. Idaho stipulates that only a custodial parent may give up the baby, while most other states allow either parent, or someone designated by one of the parents to relinquish the baby.
What is a Safe Haven?
Hospitals, fire stations, emergency medical services, police stations and sometimes child welfare agencies are considered safe havens. Generally speaking, a baby may be left with any staff member of one of these institutions, even a janitor or receptionist may be handed the baby. Babies may not be left on hospital door steps, hallways, parking lots, etc. They must be handed to another person. The safe haven is then authorized to provide any necessary medical treatment for the baby. Safe havens are protected from liability that may ensue if something happens to the baby while in their care. They may only face prosecution if there is substantial evidence of grievous neglect on their part.
What is the Parent or Agent Required to Do?
In some States, the individual may simply hand over the baby and leave. They are not required to give their name or any explanations whatsoever. However, some States have stipulated that a mother may not be free of abandonment charges if the child shows any evidence of intentional physical abuse. Therefore, some States require the mother or agent to stay at the safe haven until the child has been examined. Some states also request the parent or agent answer medical questions and give a medical history. However, they may not require this of the person surrendering the baby. Some States also require safe haven providers to provide legal information to the parent or agent about the legal ramifications of giving over the baby. In any case, as long as the baby is unharmed, the mother or agent may leave the baby anonymously and safely, without fear of prosecution.
What Babies Can Be Surrendered?
The focus of safe haven laws is to provide a safe, secure environment for newborns. In 16 states, only babies up to 72 hours old may be left. In most other states, a baby up to 1 month old can be covered under these laws. In North Dakota, however, a child up to 1 year old is protected by the Safe Haven Law.
What Are the Consequences of Giving Up a Baby to a Safe Haven?
In most states with safe haven laws, the child’s custody is handed over to the state child welfare agency or protection department at the time he is relinquished to a safe haven. The department has the responsibility of placing the child in a pre-adoptive home. It then may petition the court to terminate the parental rights of the parents. In some states, there is a specified time period in which the mother or non-relinquishing father may take steps to reclaim the child.