Safe Haven laws were enacted to prevent the abandonment of newborn babies and provide a safe and legal option for those too afraid to tell anyone of their pregnancy.
The Tennessee Safe Haven Law was enacted in July 2001 in response to a tragedy in Townsend, Tennessee. In October 2000, a 14 year old girl hid her pregnancy and gave birth at home alone. In an effort to avoid detection, she hid the baby in a shed, where the baby died. The 14-year-old mother was charged with murder and sentenced to state custody. The Safe Haven Law works to avoid this kind of tragic history from repeating itself. Since the law went into effect, 109 babies have been safely surrendered in the state of Tennessee.
Pursuant to Tennessee’s safe haven law, a mother of any age may voluntarily surrender a baby at designated safe places within 14 days of the baby’s birth confidentially and without fear of prosecution for child abandonment. The baby must be unharmed for the law to apply. The mother may surrender the baby at any hospital, birthing center, health department, community health clinic, walk-in clinic, EMS center that is open 24 hours, fire department that is open 24 hours, or police station that is open 24 hours.
When the mother arrives to surrender the baby, she does not have to provide any information about herself or the baby. The entire interaction is confidential. The mother will surrender the baby to a worker at the location. The mother is provided a packet of information explaining her options to reclaim the baby if desired, a bracelet that will match the baby’s for identification purposes, a medical information form and envelope that can be mailed in anonymously, and other pertinent information.
After the mother leaves the safe haven location, the worker will call the Department of Children’s Services to alert them that a baby was surrendered. The baby is then admitted to a hospital nursery to be examined and medically cleared before entering DCS custody.
If a mother changes her mind, she has 30 days to provide notice to DCS that she does not want to surrender the baby or have her parental rights terminated. If the mother does not contact DCS, the baby will enter state custody. The child’s biological parents’ rights will be terminated, and the baby will be placed for adoption.
Instead of a baby being harmed by a new mother in an emotionally distressed state, she can voluntarily surrender her baby knowing that she will be safe and the baby will be safe and be placed for adoption with a family.
Leah Smith is an attorney at Held Law Firm