According to information provided by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in December 2008, 63 babies had been safely surrendered to authorities since Ohio’s Safe Havens for Newborns law was enacted in April 2001.
Q: Does this mean that the law allows a birth parent to leave a newborn baby at a “safe haven”?
A: Yes. Not all women who get pregnant are ready or in a position to raise a child and sometimes a mother feels she has no option but to abandon her baby. Ohio’s Safe Havens for Newborns law allows a birth parent to leave a newborn infant (30 days old or younger) at a “safe haven” with:
a) a medical worker at a hospital;
b) a medical worker at a fire department or other emergency service organization; or
c) a peace officer at a law enforcement agency.
Q: Can a parent get into legal trouble for taking advantage of these laws?
A: No. The parent will face no legal consequences for making this choice, as long as the infant is not more than 30 days old, has not been abused, and is left with a qualified person at one of the above-mentioned places. The purpose of the law is to save newborns from injury or death by providing a safe, private alternative to abandonment in difficult situations.
Q: Who may take a newborn to a safe haven?
A: Either the birth mother or the birth father may take the newborn to a safe haven. Only the child’s birth parents, however, are protected from prosecution under the law.
Q: Will the birth parent have to give any information in order to leave a newborn at a safe haven?
A: The law states that the parent has the right to remain anonymous, as long as he or she voluntarily gives the newborn to the appropriate authorities, and the newborn has not been abused or neglected. The law provides that no one can force the parent to keep the infant or to provide medical information about the baby. Also, no one can pursue or follow the parent after the parent leaves the safe haven. If, however, the parent voluntarily decides to provide basic health information in order to benefit the baby, the parent should be offered a form to guide him or her in providing whatever health information is known.
Q: What will happen to the baby who is left at a safe haven?
A: The professional staff person at the safe haven will try to determine if the infant needs medical attention. If so, a medical professional will perform any authorized medical service necessary to protect the child’s physical health or safety. The county’s children services agency will then be contacted, no questions asked, and the infant will be placed in the agency’s custody until an adoptive family is located.
Q: What if a birth parent should change his or her mind about leaving the infant?
A: Once in the custody of the county’s children services agency, the infant is considered by Ohio law to be a deserted child. If one (or both) of the birth parents wishes to reclaim the child, the parent must tell the agency or to the court that he or she is the child’s parent and wishes to be reunited with the child. In order to verify the parent’s identity as mother or father of the child, the court that determined the child to be deserted will require that parent, at his or her expense, to submit to a DNA test.
Q: Where can birth parents get help if they can’t decide whether to leave an infant at a safe haven?
A: An adoption social worker can provide information about available options and services for birth parents and their babies.
Q: Where can I find more information about Ohio’s Safe Havens for Newborns law?
A: In order to make the public aware of the Safe Havens for Newborns law, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has created a website (www.jfs.ohio.gov/safehavens/). The department has also distributed information to public service organizations, hospitals, emergency medical services, fire stations, police stations, schools and media outlets across Ohio.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Marilee C. Boroski of the Columbus law firm, Sowald, Sowald, Anderson & Hawley.