By:  Susan L. Pollet, Esq.

 Many states have enacted what have commonly become known as Safe Haven statutes or Baby Moses legislation.  Safe Haven laws have been touted as a positive solution through which a desperate parent can abandon an infant without fear of prosecution.  The common goal is to give parents an avenue to safely turn over their child to a third party rather than leave a baby in a public place to die.  Texas was the first state to respond with such legislation in 1999.  The New York statute took effect in July of 2000 and is called the "The Abandoned Infant Protection Act." The New York law was amended in August 2010  and provides that parents who abandon their infant as prescribed by the law will not be held criminally liable. It also increased the time frame in an infant could be abandoned under the act from 5 days to infants up to 30 days old.

While no two safe haven laws are exactly alike, the statutes provide that mothers who leave their babies in a designated safe haven receive either immunity from prosecution or an affirmative defense to child neglect and abandonment prosecution.  

Each of the safe haven laws throughout the country contains information as to where the baby can be left, who may leave the child and conditions under which children may be left.  Additionally, each law includes procedures which must be followed when a designated safe haven accepts a child.  Most states include hospitals and other similar facilities as the places where a baby can be left; however, some states expand the definition of a safe haven to include fire, ambulance and police stations.

The majority of states limit the people who can leave a baby to the child’s parents, and for those states that do not so limit it, most require that the person be acting on behalf of the parent.  The primary restriction on leaving a baby is an age limit on the baby that ranges from state-to-state; most states impose a thirty day limitation or a seventy-two hour limitation from birth.  If a person leaves a child older than the age limit, that person may face prosecution for abandonment.  Many statutes also provide that a safe haven will not accept a child if that child shows signs of abuse.  Almost every safe haven law provides in its procedures for the anonymity of the parents or person leaving the child.

Post abandonment procedures vary.  Some states require implicit consent by parents for the necessary treatment of the child, while other states do not contain any express provisions relating to the treatment of the child.  Safe havens, under the statutes, are required to inform the relevant state or county child welfare agency that they are in receipt of a child.  The relevant agency then takes physical custody of the child.  Some states are silent about the procedures for adoption of the child, while other states cross-reference their state law provisions on the termination of parental rights and adoption.

Read more at the SafeHavenAlliance.