Baby India was found a few weeks ago wrapped in a plastic bag in the rural woods of Cummings, Georgia. The newborn had been abandoned by her mother within hours of her birth. Luckily, Baby India’s desperate cries for help were heard and responded to. She is now healthy and happy in the custody of the Georgia Department of Children and Family Services. Her abandonment made officials question if Baby India’s mother was aware of Georgia’s Safe Haven Law. Sometimes called “Baby Moses” laws, Safe Haven laws are a provision for parents who cannot care for their newborn children. This is what you need to know about Safe Haven laws.
During the late 1990s, the United States experienced a disturbing spike in infanticides. Parents were abandoning their newborns in unsafe places; in many cases, the babies did not survive. At the time, parents who abandoned their children would be held liable for criminal neglect. Officials agreed that something needed to change. In 1999 Texas became the first state to pass a Safe Haven law, calling their legislation a “Baby Moses” law. Over the last twenty years, all fifty states and the District of Columbia have enacted their own version of Safe Haven legislation.
To date, the National Safe Haven Alliance reports over 4,000 infants have been saved through Safe Havens. NSHA does not endorse the similar “baby boxes” common in other countries. Baby boxes allow parents to leave their newborn unattended; in contrast, most Safe Haven laws require parents to physically hand the baby to another person. When the relinquishing parent decides to leave the baby at a Safe Haven, the person to whom they give the baby will ask questions pertinent to the baby’s health. They’ll examine the child to make sure it has not been harmed. So long as the baby is unharmed the parent will be free to leave, no further questions asked.
While every state has a Safe Haven law, the details of each piece of legislation vary. Some states allow up to 30 days to release an infant to a Safe Haven. Others require the parents to relinquish the child within the first 72 hours of life. Each state has designated specific spaces to act as Safe Havens; usually, these include police stations, fire stations, and hospitals.
My own state requires parents to hand over their baby at a hospital within two weeks of birth. Surprisingly, parents may also designate a third party to relinquish the child on their behalf. In all cases, the child will immediately become a ward of the state. A hearing is scheduled within thirty days, at which a parent of the child may petition to regain custody of the child. If the state believes it is in the child’s best interest, they may transfer custody to the petitioning parent. Some states even provide the relinquishing parents and baby with matching numbered ID bracelets. This system streamlines the process of confirming maternity or paternity if the parent petitions to regain custody at a later date.
Safe Haven laws are meant to protect children from unsafe abandonment. Each state has recognized that some parents may feel unprepared or incapable of caring for their infant. In an effort to maintain the best possible outcome for the innocent child, Safe Haven laws recuse the parents from any criminal liability. Look up your own state’s law and help educate others. Hopefully, if others know they are protected by the Safe Haven law, we can avoid more situations like Baby India in Cummings