Baby Safe Haven Laws
Not too long ago, we welcomed a minister carrying a newborn baby into our police department lobby. The minister was at the department because of a California law that allows newborn babies to be given up safely and legally – the law is commonly called the Baby Safe Haven Law. The minister was helping a young woman who realized she could not responsibly care for her newborn. Luckily, rather than abandoning the baby, the young mother asked a minster she trusted to take the baby to a designated safe haven where the baby could be cared for and put up for adoption.
This law was developed to help eliminate newborn abandonment.
During the late 1990s, a surge in infant abandonments throughout the United States resulted in the death of many innocent babies. In response, a movement erupted to allow parents to relinquish custody of unharmed newborn infants without fear of prosecution. (Before the Save Haven law, parents risked criminal prosecution for neglect or abandonment.)
These Safe Haven laws remove the potential for prosecution for people who relinquish unharmed newborns to the proper authorities, no questions asked. Each state across the US has such a law.
While the laws have been remarkably successful, some babies are still illegally and unsafely abandoned, in part because women do not know that they have another option. It is important that these laws be widely promoted and that women are informed that they are not alone.
To help, I have included some information from the National Safe Haven Alliance.
What is a Baby Safe Haven Law?
Infant abandonment laws or Baby Safe Haven laws exist to enable a person to relinquish an unwanted infant anonymously. If a mother cannot care for her child, she can bring that baby into a Safe Haven location and leave the baby with a responsible adult, no questions asked. As long as the baby has not been abused, the person may do so without fear of arrest or prosecution.
How does it work?
A distressed parent who is unable or unwilling to care for their infant can give up custody of their baby, no questions asked. They must simply bring the infant to a safe haven location and make sure they locate a person to give the child. As long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse, no name or other information is required.
What's the difference between Safe Haven and Adoption?
To place your infant for adoption, you must make an adoption plan and enter into a legal contract where you forfeit your right to custody of your child. Safe Haven arrangements do not require paperwork or contracts. The process is anonymous, so long as your baby is unharmed.
Baby Safe Haven laws allow you to give your baby to a responsible adult at a designated location, and walk away, no questions asked. If you do not return to reclaim your baby, your parental rights will be terminated in a few months, and the child will be adopted by a family waiting for a child.
Can only a parent bring in the baby?
No. The parent may choose to have someone else bring in the infant. It can be a family member, a friend, a priest or minister, a social worker—practically any responsible adult.
Does a parent have to call before bringing in the baby?
No. A parent can walk in anytime, provided that there are staff members present to receive the child at the safe haven location.
Does a parent have to tell anything to the people taking the baby?
No. Nothing is required. However, safe haven staff will record any information that a parent is willing to share, such as the child's health, race, date of birth, place of birth or the medical history of the parents. This could be very useful in caring for the child.
What happens to the baby?
The child will be examined and given medical treatment, if needed. The Social Services Administration will then take custody through Child Protective Services and place the child with an appropriate caregiver.
What if I change my mind?
It's rare that a mother changes her mind. But, if you do, you will have a few days to come back and speak with the authorities about what arrangements can be made for the baby.
If you’d like more information about baby safe haven laws, here are a few places to start.
California Safe Haven Law
National Safe Haven Alliance Resource Site
On the Ukiah Police Department website we have posted this information and these links, so you can obtain more information.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.