A Safe Haven Law is a law that allows a person to legally surrender an unharmed infant at certain locations that are specifically designated by law. In most states, however, these laws only apply to the infant’s parent or an agent of the parent. As a general rule, no other individual may surrender the infant.
Safe Haven laws were primarily passed for two reasons:
- First, they ensure that an infant can be given up safely, without being harmed; and
- Second, they grant the parent immunity from prosecution; so long as the parent follows the proper procedures to surrender the infant in accordance with Safe Haven laws.
Depending on the state where the law was enacted, Safe Haven laws are known by many other names, such as:
- Baby Moses laws;
- Safe Arms for Newborns laws;
- Safe Place laws;
- Safe Surrender laws; and
- Safe Delivery laws.
Regardless, no matter what the law is called, they all serve the same purpose: to protect unwanted and abandoned newborns, and to provide parents who are unable to care for their newborns the opportunity to give their newborns a better life, without facing criminal charges.
Under Safe Haven laws, locations for abandonment are normally referred to as “Safe Surrender Sites.” Designated places typically include:
- Hospitals or Emergency Rooms;
- Fire Stations or Police Stations;
- Adoption Agencies;
- Health Care Organizations; and
- Baby Boxes (Currently, these only exist in a handful of states and despite their name, they are not actually boxes, but insulated incubators).
The most important thing that all of these locations share in common is that whichever place is selected as the safe surrender site, the infant will always be surrendered to persons who have experience and are trained to provide immediate care and attention for the baby.
The primary protective measure that Safe Haven Laws offer is allowing the surrendering parent to remain anonymous. This means that if the surrendering parent, who in good faith, has properly followed Safe Haven law requirements, then their name should be kept confidential from any court of law.
The provisions found in Safe Haven laws concerning anonymity can shield the surrendering parent from criminal charges, such as abandonment or neglect. Both are considered very serious crimes and could result in strict penalties.
If a parent does not surrender the infant in the manner that the law describes, then there is a possibility that the parent will be prosecuted under one or more of the above mentioned crimes.
The most important legal requirement is that the child be within the age range prescribed by the particular state’s Safe Haven laws. The maximum age varies depending on the state. Some state laws require that the child be surrendered within three days after birth. Other states allow a maximum of up to one year after childbirth.
These age limits were established because people were taking advantage of the Safe Haven system. Some parents had started to abandon their older children, including teens, but could still remain anonymous. This issue has already been resolved, and all states have now made it clear that only infants are allowed to be legally surrendered without penalty.
Another legal requirement is that the surrendered infant must be deemed to be safe and unharmed. If there is evidence that the child has been harmed or otherwise neglected, then the surrendering parent will lose all of the protections offered by the state’s Safe Haven laws.
A government agency, such as a state child protection agency, may intervene and initiate formal proceedings against the surrendering parent. The agency will then determine whether any criminal charges apply, and if so, what legal penalties the parent should incur.
Finally, some states may require the surrendering parent to provide their name and family or medical history. This information is usually kept confidential by the state, but it will be released if the parent is found criminally liable for a crime that resulted in harm to the surrendered child.
Surrendering an infant is a major life decision that carries many potential consequences, some of which could end in imprisonment. There are certain circumstances, however, where making such a decision may be unavoidable due to reasons, like extreme hardship or are in the interest of a child’s safety and wellbeing.
Since every state has different Safe Haven laws, it may be useful to contact a guardianship lawyer who can explain the specific requirements of your local laws in detail. Working with an attorney can also help to ensure that a surrendering parent is acting appropriately and in accordance with the standards provided by their particular state’s Safe Haven laws.
Additionally, if the parent is facing criminal charges, then it will be absolutely necessary to hire an attorney in order to properly prepare for court proceedings.