Safe Haven Law Helps to Ensure Safety, Good Health of All Babies
- Pennsylvania’s Safe Haven law says that a parent may leave a newborn aged 28 days or younger in the custody of any hospital employee without being criminally charged, as long as the child has not been physically abused or neglected.
- The parent does not have to provide any personal information and can remain completely anonymous. However, a birth certificate, medical history and any other important information is very helpful.
- The newborn is taken to the Emergency Department for evaluation and treatment, if needed. He or she is then placed with an agency that works to find the newborn a home.
- Safe Haven is part of CKHS’ annual competency training required of all nursing staff. Education about the program is also included in orientation sessions for all new employees. Promotional materials are beginning to be offered at each hospital.
To many women, pregnancy is a joyous time, filled with excitement and anticipation. But for some women who are not quite as ready to start a family, pregnancy is a time filled with anxiety, stress and worry. No matter what the reason - be it financial, emotional, psychological or otherwise - some women are unable to welcome their newborn into a happy, full life. Some, especially teenagers, may be afraid to tell anyone that they are pregnant and do not know where to turn.
That is why Pennsylvania enacted the Newborn Protection Act in 2003, also known as the Safe Haven Law. This law requires that every hospital in the state act as a “safe haven” where mothers can leave their newborns (28 days old or younger), no questions asked. Pennsylvania’s Safe Haven Law is designed to protect (and possibly save) the lives of unwanted infants. As long as the child has not been abused or neglected, the mother can leave the baby at a hospital, completely anonymously, with no criminal charges.
A baby can be left with any member of the hospital staff, from a receptionist to a doctor. Parents are encouraged to bring their contact information as well as the child’s birth certificate and medical history, although none of these are required. It is helpful to have as much information as possible to give the best care to the child. If the parent wants to leave quickly, a health history form is available to fill out later and mail in anonymously.
After a newborn is dropped off, he or she is taken to the Emergency Department to be examined and given any needed medical care. Local police are contacted; but, again, it is not a crime to leave an infant in the protective custody of a hospital. However, it is a crime to abuse or neglect a child and healthcare providers are mandated by law to report child abuse. After receiving any required care at the hospital, newborns are taken by Child Protective Services, which works to find adoptive parents for the child. The parent can change their mind for a short time before the adoption is final.
Linda Ramsey, assistant vice president of Risk Management and Claims counsel for Crozer-Keystone Health System, explains the program’s purpose.
“Safe Haven is an excellent alternative for a parent. It provides them with the chance to act in the best interest of the child and the best interest of themselves. Some people, by virtue of age, education or position in life at that moment, may not have emotional or financial resources to care for a newborn. Safe Haven allows them the opportunity to transfer the custody of the newborn to provide a better life for the infant and for themselves so they may grow to be a better parent later in life,” Ramsey says.
Yet, many girls in the target age group of 15 to 25 years old do not know about Safe Haven. Crozer-Keystone employees are working to help spread the word. Safe Haven is part of annual competency training required of the entire nursing staff at each Crozer-Keystone hospital. Education about the program is also included in orientation sessions for all new employees.
Nancy Bucher, vice president and chief nursing officer for Crozer-Keystone Health System, explains that education and awareness efforts are ongoing at all Crozer-Keystone hospitals.
“Some of the things we have done and continue to do are educate all staff members, so that everyone is well aware of the opportunity that a woman has of leaving their child with us. We have started to put up signage in key areas such as the Emergency Department and admission desks. In sum, we have a policy and a procedure and we follow it. We aim to create, in fact, a true safe haven,” Bucher says.
Doctors and nurses are key educators. The amount of people they interact with every day gives them great opportunity to spread the word. Many are parents of middle and high school students and make presentations at schools that include information about Safe Haven, sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases. Parish nurses have the opportunity to educate church congregations. Providers are encouraged to educate their own children about Safe Haven, because kids learn from each other.
To order promotional materials or learn more information about Safe Haven, visit www.secretsafe.org. A toll-free Safe Haven Helpline, 1-866-921-SAFE (7233), is also available for mothers. The Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by a “live” person. A parent in crisis can call the helpline and talk to someone about what to do to make sure the baby is safe.
Expecting mothers can also call the Healthy Baby Helpline at 1-800-986-BABY (2229) for more information about medical providers, healthcare and other services available to them.