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Safe haven laws vary throughout New England. Here's how each state approaches it.

 A sign instructing people how to surrender a newborn under Massachusetts' Safe Haven law is seen outside the Lafayette Square Fire House in Cambridge on Dec. 28, 2022.
Liz Neisloss
/
GBH News
A sign instructing people how to surrender a newborn under Massachusetts' Safe Haven law is seen outside the Lafayette Square Fire House in Cambridge on Dec. 28, 2022.

Monday's discovery of a newborn abandoned in a tent in New Hampshire has crisis counselors calling attention to baby safe haven laws, which allow a parent to safely and anonymously surrender a newborn without fear of criminal prosecution as long as there are no signs of abuse or neglect.

Texas enacted the first safe haven law in 1999 after a series of infant abandonments. Today, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have their own versions — each of which has an age limit and guidelines for how and where a person can surrender a child. Those state-by-state differences can confuse someone in crisis, said Lisa Schenk, director of education at the National Safe Haven Alliance.

The nonprofit National Safe Haven Alliance operates a 24/7 hotline to offer confidential guidance about parenting, temporary placement, adoption and safe haven surrenders. The hotline can be reached at 888-510-2229.

"Anybody that takes calls has training. There's a few of us. We're social workers and pediatric nurses in the emergency departments, and we're very familiar with working with crisis," Schenk said. "And not only does that hotline provide for information about safe haven, but we're also a way to give any mom or family that's in crisis just some resources and support, too. A lot of the time, they feel like they're rushed to make the decision and they don't have a second. But giving a call, it gives them a minute just to kind of take a breath and go through different processes and options that they may have."

Here are details about how the safe haven laws work in New England.

Connecticut

Age restrictions: Child must be 30 days old or younger

Safe haven sites: Hospital emergency rooms

What will happen: The parent, or a person acting on behalf of the parent, must hand the child directly to an on-duty nursing staff member at a hospital emergency room. That staff member may request personal information about the parent and child, but the parent is not required to share those details. The staff member may also offer the person relinquishing the child an identification bracelet to aid with reunification with the child at a later date.

Within 24 hours of receiving a child, the safe haven staff member must notify the state Department of Children and Families, which will then take custody and initiate the legal process for the child to be adopted.

Maine

Age restrictions: Child must be 31 days old or younger

Safe haven providers: Maine designates individuals as safe haven providers instead of specific locations. All law enforcement officers, firefighters, staff at emergency rooms, people staffing a safe haven "baby box," and people certified or licensed in the "healing arts" (including a doctor, nurse, dentist and therapist) can take temporary custody of a child.

What will happen: The person relinquishing the child must hand the newborn directly to a safe haven provider. That person may ask for personal information about the parent and child, but the parent is not required to provide these details.

The safe haven site will immediately notify the state Department of Health and Human Services that it has received a child.

Massachusetts

Age restrictions: Child must be 7 days old or younger

Safe haven sites: Hospitals, police stations and fire stations

What will happen: The parent must hand the child directly to an on-duty staff member at a safe haven site. That staff member is required by law to ask for personal information about the parent and child to assist with future custody determinations and care, but the parent is not required to provide these details.

The safe haven site will immediately notify the state Department of Children and Families that it has received a child, which will then place the child in a foster or pre-adoptive home and initiate the legal process for the child to be adopted.

New Hampshire

Age restrictions: Child must be 7 days old or younger

Safe haven sites: hospitals, police stations, fire stations, emergency medical service providers, houses of worship with safe haven signage, or any location where a 911 responder and the parent have agreed to meet

What will happen: The parent must hand the child directly to an on-duty staff member at a safe haven site, or meet a 911 responder at an agreed location to hand off the child. The staff member may ask for personal information about the parent and child, but the parent is not required to provide those details.

Within 24 hours of receiving a child, the safe haven site must notify the state Department of Health and Human Services. The department will alert law enforcement to ensure the surrender was legal and assign a social worker to initiate the legal process for the child to be adopted.

Rhode Island

Age restrictions: Child must be 30 days old or younger

Safe haven sites: Hospitals, emergency medical facilities, police stations and fire stations

What will happen: The parent, or a person acting on behalf of the parent, must hand the child directly to an on-duty staff member at a safe haven site. That staff member may ask for personal information about the parent and child, but the parent is not required to provide these details.

The safe haven site will immediately notify the state Department for Children, Youth and Families, which will take temporary custody of the child. If no one has claimed to be the child's parent after 90 days, the department will initiate the legal process for the child to be adopted.

Vermont

Age restrictions: Child must be 30 days old or younger

Safe haven sites: Health care facilities, police stations, fire stations, houses of worship, authorized adoption facilities, or any location where a 911 responder and the parent have agreed to meet

What will happen: The parent, or a person acting on behalf of the parent, must hand the child directly to an on-duty staff member or volunteer at a safe haven site. That staff member may ask for personal information about the parent and child, but the parent is not required to provide these details.

The safe haven site will immediately notify the state Department of Children and Families and local or state police agency that it has received a child. The department will take custody of the child as soon as practicable, place the child a temporary home and initiate the legal process for the child to be adopted.

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by GBH.

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