Safe Haven Laws – S2 E12
For some parents, pregnancy may come as an unplanned surprise. And not all families find themselves in a position to care for a newborn. However, there are resources available to help expecting parents avoid a crisis situation.
Safe Haven laws allow parents to safely surrender their newborn to a designated Safe Haven provider. For people who find themselves in a position where they are not ready or are unable to care for a baby, this law protects newborns and helps keep them safe until their care can be determined.
Host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez speaks with Heather Burner, the Executive Director of the National Safe Haven Alliance, to learn more about these laws, the impact they have on families, and the resources available to Arizona families.
Podcast Resources:Arizona Safe Baby Haven Foundation
National Safe Haven Alliance
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. She is married, has two young children, and loves reading (anything except parenting books!) and watching movies and TV. She loves to spend time with her kids (when they aren’t driving her crazy) and celebrating all of their little, and big, accomplishments. Jessica has been in the field of family and child development for over 20 years, working towards normalizing the hard work of parenting and making it easier to ask the hard questions.
Guest: Heather Burner is Executive Director of the National Safe Haven Alliance
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[00:00:00] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : Welcome to the Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Chief of the Office of Children’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Being a parent is a full-time job, so whether you’re cooking, cleaning, or taking some time for yourself, we’re here to give you the tools and resources you need to care for both you and your little one. All in just a couple of minutes.
Welcome to another episode of the Parenting Brief. For some parents becoming pregnant can come as an unplanned surprise, and some people may find themselves in a position where they are not able or ready to be a parent. Or they may lack the time and resources to appropriately plan for an alternative option.
The National Safe Haven Alliance provides parents who may be experiencing a crisis and can’t care for a newborn guides to their state safe haven laws. These laws make it possible for a parent to anonymously surrender their unharmed infant to a designated safe haven provider. They also provide information, resources, and support to parents who want to be able to keep their baby to reduce the need of surrendering their infant.
The ultimate goal of the National Safe Haven Alliance is to prevent infant abandonment across the country and protect vulnerable infants and mothers in crisis. We have more information on that up next
With us today is Heather Burner, she is the Executive Director of the National Safe Haven Alliance. Thank you for joining us today, Heather.
[00:01:49] Heather Burner: Thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:51] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : I think we should start at the beginning, just so everybody is on the same page of what we’re talking about today. Can you explain what a safe haven law is?
[00:02:02] Heather Burner: Yes, absolutely, so safe haven laws allows a parent to anonymously surrender their unharmed infant to a safe haven location that’s stated by the law. So every state in our country has a safe haven law, and although the age limit may vary and the locations may vary, hospitals are a designated location in every state.
[00:02:27] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : So I know as you just said, that there are specifics of the law that can vary by state. Do you know for Arizona how many days and where someone can surrender their unharmed infant?
[00:02:40] Heather Burner: Yes, absolutely. So in Arizona, a parent may surrender their unharmed infant up to 30 days of age and safe haven locations here in Arizona include hospitals, fire stations, designated churches, adoption agencies, and child welfare agencies.
[00:02:59] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : How do they determine the age of an infant if it was actually surrendered within the law requirements?
[00:03:06] Heather Burner: So that’s up to a medical provider. So we don’t want Safe Haven locations and staff at, let’s say a fire station or an adoption agency or a church to try to figure out if a child is 28 days old or one day old.
They just may not have the ability to do that. So we definitely in our trainings, tell safe haven providers to accept a child actually of any age, because if a child is being brought to you they are at a very high risk for abuse and neglect, so even if they’re eight years old, we want you to take that child and transport the child to the hospital to get evaluated. When it’s a baby and we know that it’s most likely within the age limit, then the medical provider would be able to look at certain growth chart factors and the umbilical cord and things like that that might be able to identify approximate age , but it’s definitely a physician determination.
[00:04:01] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : Since the safe haven law provides that opportunity for somebody to surrender their infant anonymously, what does that process look like for someone who is looking to surrender their infant?
[00:04:15] Heather Burner: So, in Arizona, it’s very straightforward. We want parents to understand that this is a last resort. Certainly there are many alternatives that we could discuss prior to this being the only option, which is what our hotline is for, and we have a designated hotline here in Arizona and nationally, but we want them to know what the options are and that safe haven when you do go to a location that when we say anonymous, that means that you don’t actually have to give any information.
You can hand someone your baby. You can use the language of safe haven or safe surrender. You want to surrender your baby, pretty much any of the safe haven providers are going to understand if someone is bringing them a baby, that that’s what this is. That’s what this process is. And so we do encourage maybe the question of when was the baby born?
Is there any information that you would like to provide us about the baby or about your pregnancy? But the woman or parent is not required to provide any information.
[00:05:15] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : And what happens when someone calls the hotline? What can they expect if they call or text that number?
[00:05:22] Heather Burner: So the hotline is probably the most important piece of how we are able to connect with parents and providers. So we also offer that support to providers on what their policy looks like, what that process is for them, but more importantly, the options that are available. What that looks like is us walking through this communication model that includes , what we ask typically to start is, what do you feel prevents you from parenting this child?
And when we do that, we are able to get a snapshot of what their current circumstances might look like. Many times, the baby is not the crisis, their life is the crisis. Their situation is a crisis, and maybe we can then identify ways to assist them, and walk alongside them, provide resources and help for them. That may actually include keeping their family together. So we want to identify what that looks like so we can address the parenting option. And what does that look like if they’re homeless or if they need childcare or support services in some way. Is it something that we can do to help them parent their child.
With parenting, we also offered temporary placement. I’ve actually worked with several parents that delivered and hid the pregnancy, so they weren’t able to take the baby out of the hospital, but they were rushing into a decision for safe haven. When we slowed things down, and allowed some time for them to decide what the best option was then they actually chose to parent or chose to make an adoption plan so they could still be a part of their child’s life. So we do work with some agencies that offer temporary placement in that way, and then if parenting or temporary placement is not an option, then we wanna talk to them about adoption and make sure that they understand what options are available to them through the adoption process, whether that’s closed adoption, open adoption, receiving information about their child, or maybe at least later being able to receive information about their child. Safe haven is a little bit different. When you surrender your child you do not have any ownership over that situation any longer.
You’ve essentially waived your parental rights at that time. So you don’t get to choose an adoptive family. You don’t get to come back in two years and ask for pictures. So we really want them to consider adoption prior to making that choice of safe haven. So then, like I said, if they choose that adoption is not the right thing for them, then we would then discuss safe haven in detail and what that looks like for them.
We would find out their location if they’re willing to give that to us, and what the nearest safe haven provider locations are to them. And once they decided where they wanted to go, we would then call that location. We would get a point of contact for them, so there aren’t five firefighters rushing out and bombarding a parent or ER nurses coming outside of the door and security and social workers, we really want to make that as safe as possible for them. So we would identify a point of contact and walk with them through that process. And then we do at times get to have some contact with mothers or parents after they surrender, offering them counseling, offering support.
We’ve sent grocery cards and boxes of clothes and things like that when we know that there are needs. So we really do try to take a holistic approach in how we support the family in the entire situation, whatever that might look like for them.
[00:08:57] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : Can somebody call before their baby is born in order to get that support and information, or is this really just within those first 30 days after baby is born?
[00:09:09] Heather Burner: No, no. We really encourage parents to call prior to delivering because there are technicalities, like we could go through, spend a whole hour probably on technicalities to the law, and so I don’t wanna go into that too much. But if we have the opportunity to address these things prior then you’re not doing it in crisis mode.
And that’s always a little bit easier to digest information when you’re not in the crisis. But most certainly, we do get a lot of calls, obviously when they’ve delivered, they’re about to deliver or they’ve just delivered and we are able to, you know, communicate in a way that we can slow down the conversation enough to try to get the information there.
Although I have had circumstances that they’ve said, Hey, I delivered in a bathtub and I need to know where to go right now. And when we ask, do you wanna discuss any other options? No. We know that at that point we just need to get them to the safest place.
[00:10:03] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : And if people are currently pregnant and experiencing a crisis or know somebody who is, or is really just interested in learning more information about the program, where can people go to find more information?
[00:10:17] Heather Burner: So you can go to ArizonaSafeBabyHaven.org, or our hotline is 1-866-707-2229, and our hotline is operated 24 hours a day. So, like I said, I used to tell people, go to the website, get the information. There’s a lot of information there to read, but we know that really what these folks need is that contact, that support system, even if it’s just the person on the other end of the line that can walk with them during this time. Many times these parents are completely isolated. They have no one to talk to. They don’t have family support, and we want to make sure that they know that they’re not alone. If they choose to call us, we will definitely support them in this time.
[00:11:13] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez : We have more information and resources about safe haven laws in the show notes. Make sure to give us a follow where you listen to podcasts so you can get the notification when the next episode airs. Also, share this episode with your community so we can share this lifesaving information with as many people as possible.
Until next time, this is Jessica. You’ve got this.