A Safe Haven Law is legislation that permits a person to legally relinquish an unharmed infant at specific locations designated by the law. In most states, these laws apply only to the infant’s parent or someone authorized by the parent. Generally, no one else is allowed to give up the infant.
Safe Haven laws were enacted mainly for two reasons:
Safe Surrender of an Infant
One of the primary objectives of Safe Haven laws is to create a secure environment where infants can be safely surrendered without the risk of injury or death. Prior to the implementation of these laws, some desperate parents resorted to abandoning their babies in unsafe locations, such as dumpsters or public restrooms, where the infants faced life-threatening dangers.
Safe Haven laws address this issue by designating specific locations, like hospitals and fire stations, where trained professionals are available to provide immediate care and support for surrendered infants. These laws aim to protect the health and well-being of the babies while also offering parents a compassionate alternative to abandonment.
Immunity from Prosecution for the Parent
Another essential aspect of Safe Haven laws is offering legal protection for parents who adhere to the proper procedures when surrendering their infants. In many cases, parents who choose to relinquish their newborns are facing overwhelming personal circumstances and feel unable to provide adequate care for their children.
Safe Haven laws recognize the challenging situations these parents may be experiencing and provide a degree of immunity from criminal prosecution for actions such as abandonment or neglect.
Safe Haven Laws Have Different Names
Safe Haven laws may be referred to by different names in different states, such as Baby Moses laws, Safe Arms for Newborns laws, Safe Place laws, Safe Surrender laws, and Safe Delivery laws. Regardless of the name, all these laws serve the same purpose: to protect unwanted and abandoned newborns and to give parents who cannot care for their newborns a chance to provide them with a better life without facing criminal charges.
What Areas or Locations are Considered Safe Haven Places?
Under Safe Haven laws, designated surrender locations are often called “Safe Surrender Sites.”
Hospitals or Emergency Rooms
Hospitals and emergency rooms are common Safe Surrender Sites due to their accessibility and the presence of medical professionals who can provide immediate care to the surrendered infant. For example, a parent may surrender a newborn to a nurse or doctor in a hospital emergency room, ensuring that the baby receives prompt medical attention and assessment.
Fire Stations or Police Stations
Fire stations and police stations are also frequently designated as Safe Surrender Sites because they are staffed around the clock by trained professionals who can respond to emergencies. For instance, a parent might bring their infant to a local fire station and hand the baby over to a firefighter, who would then ensure the child is safe and contact the appropriate authorities to arrange further care.
In some states, churches can serve as Safe Surrender Sites, offering a more private and potentially less intimidating environment for parents to leave their infants. A parent could bring their baby to a church and speak with a clergy member, who would then coordinate with other organizations or authorities to ensure the infant’s safety and well-being.
Adoption agencies may also be designated as Safe Surrender Sites, as they specialize in finding suitable homes for children in need. By surrendering an infant at an adoption agency, a parent can be confident that the agency will work to place the child with a loving and supportive adoptive family.
Healthcare organizations, such as community health centers or clinics, can also serve as Safe Surrender Sites. These locations typically have trained medical staff on-site who can provide immediate care for the infant and coordinate with child welfare agencies to ensure the baby’s long-term well-being.
For example, a parent might leave their newborn at a community health clinic, where a nurse or medical professional would provide care and contact the appropriate authorities.
Baby Boxes are insulated incubators installed at certain Safe Surrender Sites, such as hospitals or fire stations. These boxes are designed to keep the infant safe and comfortable while alerting staff inside the facility that a baby has been left. Once the infant is placed inside the Baby Box and the door is closed, an alarm is triggered, notifying staff to retrieve the baby and provide care. This option offers a higher level of anonymity for parents who may be hesitant to interact directly with someone when surrendering their child.
Currently, Baby Boxes are available only in a few states but have the potential to expand to more locations in the future.
What Types of Legal Protections Exist for Parents Under Safe Haven Laws?
The main protective measure provided by Safe Haven Laws is the option for the surrendering parent to remain anonymous. This means that if the parent properly follows the Safe Haven law requirements in good faith, their identity should be kept confidential in any legal proceedings.
Anonymity provisions within Safe Haven laws can protect the surrendering parent from criminal charges such as abandonment or neglect, which are serious crimes with severe penalties. If a parent does not follow the law’s requirements when surrendering the infant, they may face prosecution for one or more of the above-mentioned crimes.
What are the Legal Requirements for Surrendering an Infant at a Safe Surrender Site?
The most crucial legal requirement is that the child must be within the age range specified by the state’s Safe Haven laws. The maximum age varies by state, with some requiring surrender within three days after birth, while others allow up to one year after childbirth.
Age limits were established to prevent abuse of the Safe Haven system, as some parents began abandoning older children, including teenagers while maintaining anonymity. This issue has been resolved, and all states now clearly stipulate that only infants can be legally surrendered without penalty.
Another legal requirement is that the infant must be safe and unharmed upon surrender. If there is evidence of harm or neglect, the parent will lose the protections provided by the state’s Safe Haven laws. In such cases, a government agency, such as a state child protection agency, may intervene and initiate formal proceedings against the parent. The agency will determine whether criminal charges apply and, if so, the appropriate legal penalties.
In some states, the parent may be required to provide their name and family or medical history. This information is typically kept confidential but may be released if the parent is found criminally liable for harming the surrendered child.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues Involving Safe Haven Laws?
Surrendering an infant is a significant decision with potential consequences, including imprisonment. In certain circumstances, making such a decision may be unavoidable due to extreme hardship or concern for the child’s safety and well-being.
LegalMatch can assist you in finding a qualified and experienced guardianship lawyer who practices Safe Haven law in your area. You can use LegalMatch’s online matching service to connect with lawyers who have the knowledge to help you with your case. Simply provide some basic information about your situation, and LegalMatch will match you with lawyers who meet your needs.