In the United States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted laws to protect newborn infants from infanticide at the hands of their parents. The law recognizes, pregnant women in crisis need an alternative to disposing of their infant, thereby causing the child’s death. The law allows the parent, usually the mother, to take their baby to a specified safe location where they are offered the opportunity to relinquish their baby and remain anonymous while doing it. If the infant’s mother does not want to drop her infant off at a designated sight, she can have another person do so in her place. In such cases, as long as there are no signs of child abuse the mother, or the person she designated to act on her behalf is immune to prosecution.
Safe Haven Laws
Safe Haven laws, differ by state or territory in minor respects. As an example, in Puerto Rico the infant must be 72 hours or younger, while in some states the infant may be anything up to one month old. In Florida, an infant must be, or appear to be 7 days or less old. In some states, or territories, the mother is the only person allowed to relinquish an infant, other states allow a designated person acting on behalf of the mother. Other states, do not specify specifically who is allowed to relinquish an infant.
The law ensures infants the opportunity to be left at locations where they can received immediate medical care. Many states require the infant to be left at a hospital or clinic, while others will allow infants to be relinquished to fire stations, and some will allow churches. What is required in these cases is for the church or fire station to be manned. It is not acceptable to leave an infant on the steps of a church which is closed for the night, or a fire station which is unmanned.
In some states, a mother or her designated agent may not only remain anonymous, they also do not have to provide any information (such as medical) about the infant, other states require the mother to provide this information.
It is important, therefore, to know exactly what the law is in a particular state in order to avoid prosecution. In Florida, a mother, or someone she designates (Social Worker, Chaplin, friend, or family member for example) can relinquish any infant who is, or appears to be, 7 days old or less. She must leave the baby at either a fire fighter at any manned fire station, or at an emergency medical center, or with an employee at a hospital. There must be staff available at the chosen drop off point. If she does relinquish at any of these sites, employees, doctors, personnel are not allowed to ask the mother for any identifying information. If the mother does relinquish an infant and there has not been any child abuse the mother is immune from prosecution. Of course, if signs of child abuse are present the mother can be prosecuted for the child abuse.
The laws in Florida state, in cases where a child has been relinquished a hospital may call a private child placing agency to shelter the child and find the child adoptive parents. Florida Adoption Center LLC is such a child placing agency. In cases where we are called to shelter a “Safe Haven” baby, we will call one of our Interim (Cradle Care) providers to provide a safe home for the child while we set about finding suitable adoptive parents for the child. It typically takes a few days for us to identify, contact and arrange for the child’s placement with adoptive parents, but for the infants sake we try to do this as quickly as possible. In Safe Haven cases, there is a possibility the mother will change her mind, but statistically this is fairly rare. As with any adoption, the Adoptive Parents must be willing to accept the risk.
We have taken it upon ourselves to be advocates of Safe Haven, and have a supply of literature, flyers, posters and other materials available to distribute. If you, or someone you know, would like to display or distribute these materials please contact us. We will be happy to get them to you.
Of course, if you are a woman in a crisis pregnancy situation and you don’t know where to turn, please call us for a confidential session with one of our caring and supportive pregnancy counsellors. We can provide many kinds of support, and are always willing to drop everything to meet with you.