Guideline: The Safe Havens Act for Newborns Program

The Safe Haven Act

The Safe Haven Act for Newborns is a government program that allows parents to give up custody of their newborn baby without legal consequence. They can drop the baby off safely and anonymously at a fire station, hospital emergency room or police station. Most often it is an emergency room. When you drop your baby off, you do not need to give your name or any other information.

The law is intended to save the lives of babies at risk in challenging situations. As long as the baby has not been abused, you are free to relinquish custody without police involvement or any legal recourse. You cannot be prosecuted for abandonment, endangerment or neglect when complying with the Safe Haven Act.

The Act, also known as the "Baby Moses law" was first started in Texas after a string of infanticides. Geanie Morrison, Texas House of Representative member sponsored the bill.

Who is a Safe Haven provider?

Most often emergency room nurses are Safe Haven providers but in some states mothers and fathers are allowed to leave babies off at fire stations or the police station. Providers may include a policeman or fireman who is on duty, a medical staff person at any hospital, an EMT on duty, a staff member or volunteer at a licensed private adoption agency, and a staff member or volunteer at a church. Each of these organizations must agree to be Safe Haven drop off locations. Some organizations post signs to show they are Safe Haven providers.

How long does a parent have to drop off a newborn?

It varies by state, and many allow you to surrender your child within 72 hours of birth. In 19 U.S. states, you have 30 days from birth to decide to give up your child under the Safe Haven Act. In most states, either legal parent can surrender the child to a Safe Haven location. In some states, only the mother can give up her baby.

What can a parent or guardian expect?

You can expect to legally, safely and anonymously drop off your child and they will be well taken care of, receive medical care and be placed in a good home. If you have provided your contact information (but you have no legal obligation to do so), you will be contacted by the court before the hearing, notifying you of their intent to terminate parental rights.

DCS takes care of your child

What will happen if you bring your baby to the Hospital Emergency Department?

When you drop off your child at the hospital, a nurse will ask you about the baby’s medical history and yours. You do not have to answer any personal information, but the more you provide about the child, the better. Within 24 hours the nurse is legally bound to contact the Department of Child Safety (DCS), so they can take custody of the child. Before leaving the nurse will give you a packet of information about your rights and how to contact DCS should you change your mind or have any questions.

What will happen when you change your mind?

If you change your mind, you should call DCS immediately. You have only a very short time before they terminate your parental rights. The process begins when they take custody of the baby. You should also contact the court immediately to hire an attorney, as they will need to help you with the process of reunification with your baby. Only 20 states in the U.S. allow the parent to reclaim the child within a specified amount of time.

What will happen to your baby?

DCS will put a plan in place quickly to terminate your parental rights, usually within 30 days. Then they will try and place the child with a foster or adoptive family immediately. If they were dropped off somewhere other than a hospital, the baby must first be taken there and examined.

What does Termination of Parental Rights mean and when does it occur?

Termination of your parental rights means that the courts have deemed you no longer the parent of the child. The child is now free to be put up for adoption, and you have no say in the decisions of raising or caring for the child. Usually, the hearing to terminate your rights happens within 30 days after DCS takes custody of the baby.

Adoption of the baby

Once the court grants termination of your parental rights, your baby may be adopted. The adoption process itself may take weeks or even months, but after 30 days and termination of your rights, the baby can be legally adopted.

How long does it take for your baby to get adopted?

The adoption process is lengthy, as the court has to interview potential families and perform other steps. It can take up to a year for your baby to be adopted, but during that time, they will be in a potential adoptive family home or foster care situation. They will be well fed, well cared for and monitored by the state to be sure they are well adjusted.

What happens if a private adoption agency does not claim a newborn?

Babies are in high demand, but in some cases, a private adoption agency will not claim the child for adoption. DCS will contact each agency in the area to offer the child for adoption. When none respond, the state will attempt to find a suitable foster care situation or family for adoption. A lot of families first foster a child while they wait for the courts to decide on allowing them to adopt. So in many cases, your child could go quickly to a foster family who eventually ends up adopting the baby.

Child Custody

When will DCS take custody of a Safe Haven newborn?

If no other agency takes custody of the newborn within 48 hours, DCS must do so. Before they do, however, the child will undergo a complete physical examination to be sure no abuse or neglect has occurred.