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Newborn safely relinquished through Safe Haven law

The Department of Children & Family Services (DSS) announced today that a female newborn was successfully and safely relinquished through Louisiana's Safe Haven law last month at a New Orleans area hospital. The baby is the twelfth child relinquished in the state utilizing the Safe Haven law since 2004.

The child's parents informed an employee at the hospital that they wanted to invoke the Safe Haven law, which provides a legal means for parents to give up custody of infants that they are unable to care for without the threat of prosecution for neglect, abandonment or child cruelty.

"These parents made a safe decision for their baby," said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. "Although it can never be easy to make the decision to give up custody of a child, utilizing the Safe Haven law protects everyone involved, from child to parents."

This is the second time this year that a baby has been handed over to the state. A female newborn was relinquished at a New Orleans area fire station in January.

Because the Safe Haven law allows parents to remain anonymous, identifying factors like parents' names and date and place of relinquishment are not released due to confidentiality reasons.

Under the Safe Haven law, a parent may leave a baby up to 31-days-old in the care of an individual at a designated emergency care facility. The baby must be placed in the arms of an emergency care facility employee and must show no signs of abuse or neglect. Louisiana's designated emergency care 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.

DSS created the state's current Safe Haven policies and procedures in 2004 and launched a public awareness campaign in February 2009. One third of relinquishments in Louisiana have occurred after the start of that awareness campaign.

"We are pleased to see the public awareness campaign is working," said Nichols. "The Safe Haven law offers a loving, safe and anonymous alternative for parents faced with an infant they cannot care for."

Safe Haven Cases since 2004

May 2004 Slidell area
November 2004 Lafayette area
April 2005 New Orleans area
May 2005 New Orleans area
June 2007 Lafayette area
July 2007 New Orleans area
September 2007 Shreveport area
October 2008 New Orleans area
March 2009 Lake Charles area
April 2009 Lake Charles area
January 2010 New Orleans area
April 2010 New Orleans area

DSS 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. The child must be handed to an employee to fulfill the Safe Haven law. The child cannot be left unattended at anytime.

After the child is given up, he or she is 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. A parent who wishes to initiate proceedings to reclaim custody of the child has 30 days to contact DSS.

Meanwhile, officials at the designated emergency care facility that received the child notify DSS. The Office of Community Services (OCS) begins the process to obtain legal custody of the child and to free the child for adoption.

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.

According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, all 50 states have some form of Safe Haven provision.

For more information about the Safe Haven law, call 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373), which is supported by Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana, or visit Safe Haven facilities can also request posters, brochures and other materials, as well as view a Safe Haven training video at the website.


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