Adoption Support

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Safe Havens for Abandoned Infants

After 13 infants were abandoned in the Houston, Texas, area within a 10-month period in 1999, state lawmakers acted to encourage desperate parents to leave their children in a safe location rather than simply abandoning them. Since the Texas law was adopted, 34 more states have enacted so-called "safe haven" laws. All the statutes generally promise that women who relinquish unharmed infants in designated safe places will not be prosecuted or provide that abandonment in compliance with the law constitutes an affirmative defense to prosecution.

So far, the effects of the new laws appear to be limited. Although some newborns have been left at hospitals or police and fire stations, others continue to be found in unsafe places. Serious concerns remain regarding the general lack of research on abandoned babies and their mothers, the implications of these laws on states' adoption and child welfare practices, the rights of the infant's father and the relatively small number of infants involved. Some child welfare experts have expressed concern that the laws do not include an examination of existing statewide child abuse prevention strategies and services for women at risk.

This report examines what is known about infant abandonment, provides an overview of key aspects of the legislation, describes state experience with the new laws and discusses some policy implications for lawmakers