Safe Haven Laws Provide Alternatives to Abandoning a Baby

Desperation can lead to heart-breaking decisions such as abandoning a baby. All 50 states have safe haven laws allowing parents to leave newborns in safe locations such as hospitals or churches without having to disclose their identity or without being asked questions and without fear of being charged with a crime.
Safe haven laws, also known as “Baby Moses laws“:

  1. Protect unwanted babies from potential harm and safety hazards
  2. Provide parents an alternative to child abandonment charges

Conditions for Relinquishing a Baby

Most states limit the age of who may be placed in a designated ‘safe haven’ to infants 72 hours old or younger, while other states may accept infants up to 1 month of age.

States determine who may leave unwanted babies in a designated location, the obvious being the mother of the child (and sometimes fathers depending on the state laws). Some states allow someone other than a parent to relinquish a child, and a few of those states require that he or she have legal custody of the child to do so. A handful of states do not specify the relationship of the person to the infant.

Designated Safe Haven Locations

The idea of a safe haven location is somewhere where the baby will receive immediate care including health care clinics, police stations, fire stations, emergency medical technicians (EMT), churches, and other “safe” places a state deems acceptable. To qualify as a safe haven, most states emphasis that parents must relinquish unwanted infants to a place where the infant can receive immediate care. Leaving a baby when no one is around does not qualify.

Depending on the state, safe haven providers must take the infant into custody, provide any necessary medical care, and do the following:

  • Inform the parent that by surrendering the child she is releasing the child for adoption
  • Inform the parent that reasonable efforts will be made to locate the non-relinquishing parent (and ask the parent to release the name of the other parent)
  • Encourage the parent to provide relevant family or medical information
  • Transfer the child to a hospital (if safe haven is not a hospital)
  • Have the child examined by a physician (if safe haven is a hospital)
  • Notify a child-placing agency

States typically give immunity to safe haven providers for anything that might happen to the infant while in their care, unless there is gross negligence.

What Happens When You Relinquish an Unwanted Baby

Relinquishing an unwanted baby to the care of a safe haven provider relieves you of any criminal liability, but also relieves you of your parental rights to the child. In some states, you may be required to provide your name and family history (although some states will guarantee this information remains confidential.) Note that you will forfeit your right to anonymity and criminal liability if you have abused or otherwise neglected the child in any way.

You also have the right to be informed by safe haven staff that by surrendering the child, you are releasing the child for adoption and that you have the right to petition the court in your state (within a set time period, like 28 days) to regain custody. The court will then determine custody based on the child’s best interest. (A parent who surrenders a child and does not file a custody action is presumed to have knowingly released his or her parental rights.)

Reasons to Choose Adoption:

  • You’re not ready to be a mom
  • You can’t count on support from the baby’s father
  • Cannot afford another child
  • Rape or incest
  • Prior involvement with Child Protective Services or use of drugs

In today’s modern adoption, you can decide what happens in every step of the process, including your baby’s parents and region of the country where they grow up.  Adoption means you can choose the future you want for your baby. Plus, you may also get financial help with medical bills and living expenses. Isn’t it worth checking out your adoption options?

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Sources: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017) Infant safe haven laws. Washington D.C. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. FindLaw web site.