Aug. 1 brings changes to La. Safe Haven law
Effective August 1, a parent can use the Louisiana Safe Haven law to relinquish a baby up until they are 60 days old. Previously the age limit was 30 days.
Louisiana's Safe Haven law provides a safe, legal, last resort to abandonment. Parents who are unable to care for their newborn can find a safe environment utilizing the Safe Haven law at any designated emergency care facility.
Representative Chris Hazel introduced House Bill 173 (Act 186) during the 2013 Legislative Session, which increases the age to 60 days old. The law continues to require that the baby cannot be left unattended and must show no signs of abuse or neglect.
Since 2004, 28 infants have been relinquished in Louisiana using the Safe Haven law, most recently two in the New Orleans area this month.
"The Safe Haven law provides a safety net to ensure parents have a place to turn when they feel they are unable to care for their baby," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "The change in the law provides more time for parents to legally relinquish custody of older infants without the threat of prosecution for neglect, abandonment or child cruelty,"
Louisiana's designated Safe Haven facilities are any licensed hospital, public health unit, emergency medical service provider, medical clinic, fire or police station, pregnancy crisis center or child advocacy center.
DCFS recommends that parents who want to relinquish their newborns take the following steps:
1. Locate the nearest emergency care facility (i.e. hospital, public health unit, any EMS unit, medical clinic, fire or police station, pregnancy crisis center or child advocacy center)
2. Locate an employee with the facility, hand your child to them and state that you want to utilize Louisiana's Safe Haven law.
After the child is relinquished, he or she is immediately taken for a medical checkup. The relinquishing parent is provided a card with a toll-free phone number (1-800-CHILDREN or 1-800-244-5373) to call and receive information about parental rights and provide anonymous information about the infant's medical and genetic history, if desired.
Meanwhile, officials at the designated emergency care facility that received the child notify DCFS. DCFS then begins the process to obtain legal custody of the child and to free the child for adoption.
"This law is designed to protect both the infant and the parents," said Secretary Sonnier. "Giving up a child can be a difficult decision. Any parent who wishes to reclaim custody of their baby has 30 days after relinquishing the child to contact DCFS."
Parents who would like to give up custody of their child, but whose child is not in immediate danger of harm, are encouraged to use a planned, permanent adoption through an adoption agency that accounts for medical and genetic history.
A series of high-profile infant abandonment cases across the country prompted the Louisiana Legislature to combat the problem. In 2000, Louisiana enacted such a law, amending the Children's Code Articles 1101 and 1193 and Title XVII of the Children's Code, Articles 1701-1706, to provide for the Safe Haven relinquishment of newborns. That Code again was amended in 2003 and most recently in the 2013 legislative session.
According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, all 50 states have some form of Safe Haven law. For more information about the Louisiana Safe Haven law, call 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373), visit the www.LouisianaSafeHaven.com.