Safe Havens... What are they?
Safe Haven laws, also known as Baby Moses laws, are statutes that were placed in effect in 1999. Under these regulations, a mother in crisis can relinquish parental responsibility by placing her newborn in a designated Safe Haven Baby Box. These laws were put in place to combat increased infant neglect and abuse among parents in crisis. If a mother cannot care for an infant, these boxes are a safe location to leave a child to be protected and cared for until they can receive permanent care. Within this system, the parent is allowed to remain anonymous and will be shielded from criminal liability regarding neglect, abandonment, or child endangerment.
Safe Haven laws exist in all 50 US states as well as in multiple US territories around the world. The stipulations of these laws vary depending on location, but the general consensus is that these boxes are meant for young infants (<30 days). Additionally, while in few locations only the mother may surrender a newborn child, many Safe Havens allow any parent or caregiver to yield an infant while remaining under the same legal protections as the mother. These caregivers must either be the legal guardian of the child or have parental approval. The main purpose of these Safe Haven baby boxes is to ensure an abandoned infant receives immediate care as opposed to infants who are left in unsafe locations who generally experience health concerns and/or infant mortality. Child abandonment is often a last resort for mothers in crisis, and Safe Haven laws exist to make the process easier and safer for both parties- as difficult as it may be.
Safe Haven baby boxes are generally located outside of hospitals, police stations, or fire houses that have 24-hour medical staff on hand. In rare cases, churches may also house a Safe Haven baby box. The door to the box is located on the exterior of the building which locks upon placement. The interior wall holds another door in which trained personnel may retrieve the infant. Between these doors is a temperature-controlled bassinet where the infant briefly rests before medical staff recovers the child. After 2 minutes, alarms are set off to alert those nearby that the infant is present.
When a baby is reported within a Safe Haven Baby Box, the US Department of Health and Human Services gains custody of the child. They work to place the child in a pre-adoptive home and petition for parental rights to be terminated. The termination of these rights varies upon location. In some states, a parent may reclaim the infant within a defined period of time, In 19 US States, Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, the surrender of an infant to a Safe Haven Baby Box is, in and of itself, the act of relinquishing all parental rights and no further permission is needed to place the child for adoption.
To find your nearest Safe Haven Baby Box, visit Safe Haven Baby Boxes - Baby Box Locations, Business, Drop Box (shbb.org)
This organization is ever expanding and as of today, there are 157 boxes nationwide! If you or someone you know has delivered an infant and feels she has nowhere to go, The Alight Center can help connect you to necessary resources for alternatives to parenting. Safe Haven Baby Boxes are seen as a last resort, but if you believe they are your best option, the process is safe and secure for you and your child.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2022). Infant safe haven laws. U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, Administration for Families, Children's Bureau.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes. “Safe Haven Baby Boxes.” Safe Haven Baby Boxes, shbb.org/#:~:text=A%20Baby%20Box%20is%20installed,designated%20fire%20station%20or%20hospital. Accessed 9 Sept. 2023.