State Safe Haven Laws

  • Emily M. Douglas


Sometimes parents abandon or discard infants very early in life and this often leads to their death. Regardless of the circumstances, this is generally considered a form of neglect. The most universal response to this in the United States has been to pass “safe haven” laws—or laws that allow parents to legally relinquish infants in designated areas without any criminal consequence. Today, all states in the U.S. have safe haven laws. This chapter discusses the history, purpose, and use of these laws. The primary concerns of safe haven laws is that they are easy to pass and implement, but that they do not address unwanted pregnancies or help to support parents who may be feeling desperate enough to relinquish a child. Further, despite the options that they present to parents, there is no evidence to date that safe haven laws lead to fewer deaths of children.


Child maltreatment fatalities Safe haven laws Abandoned infants Discarded infants 


  1. Abandoned Infants Assistance Act, Pub. L. No. 100–505 (1988 October 18).Google Scholar
  2. Appell, A. R. (2002a). Safe havens to abandon babies, Part I: The law. Adoption Quarterly, 5(4), 59–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appell, A. R. (2002b). Safe havens to abandon babies, Part III: The effects. Adoption Quarterly, 6(2), 67–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atwood, T. C. (2008). Comment: National Council for Adoption’s response to the Texas Safe Haven study. Child Maltreatment, 13(1), 96–97. doi: 10.1177/1077559507310367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baby left overnight in woods; mother held (2014, April 21). The News & Record. Retrieved from
  6. Baby Safe Surrender. (2014). About the baby safe surrender program. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from
  7. Buckley, C. (2007). Safe-haven laws fail to end discarding of babies. New York Times. Retrieved from
  8. California Department of Social Services. (2013). Safely surrendered baby law. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from
  9. Carter, T. F. (2013, November 5). Secret Safe Place for Newborns celebrates 15 years of success. Retrieved from
  10. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2010). “Infant safe haven laws” summary of state laws. Retrieved January 14, 2015, from
  11. Conover, M. (2000, July 6). Teens need to be educated about baby ‘safe haven’ law. Indianapolis Star, p. W2.Google Scholar
  12. Curran, L., & Pletrzak, J. (2001, Spring). AIA Programs: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The Source: The National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center. Retrieved June 9, 2014, Spring, from
  13. D.C. Council OKs newborn safe haven. (2009, April 8). The Washington Times. Retrieved from
  14. Deoudes, G. (2003). Unintended consequences: “Safe haven” laws are causing problems, not solving them. New York, NY: The Donaldson Adoption Institute.Google Scholar
  15. Domash, S. F., Gallucci, J., & Twarowski, C. (2010, October 14). Inside Tim Jaccard’s Children of Hope and baby safe haven crusade. Long Island Press. Retrieved from
  16. Douglas, E. M. (2006). State-level predictors of divorce-related public policy. Paper presented at the 6th Annual state politics and policy conference, Lubbock, TX.Google Scholar
  17. Douglas, E. M., & Mohn, B. L. (2014). Safe haven legislation in the United States: An exploratory analysis. Paper presented at the Policy conference 2.0, Austin, TX.
  18. Fan, W. (2014, June 24). ‘Safe haven’ overwhelmed with abandoned babies. China News Service. Retrieved from
  19. Garbaciak, J. (2013, November 19). Mother who left baby in dumpster talks to WISN 12 News about why she did it. WISN12 ABC. Retrieved from
  20. Goss, C. (2014, July 16). Dalhart pushes for education on baby safe haven laws. Retrieved from
  21. Hammond, M., Miller, M. K., & Griffin, T. (2010). Safe haven laws as crime control theater. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34(7), 545–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hensley, J. J. (2013, October 12). Many remain unaware of baby safe haven laws. USA Today. Retrieved from
  23. Herman-Giddens, M. E., Smith, J. B., Mittal, M., Carlson, M., & Butts, J. D. (2003). Newborns killed or left to die by a parent: A population-based study. JAMA, 289(11), 1425–1429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kertzer, D. I. (1991). Gender ideology and infant abandonment in nineteenth-century Italy. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 22(1), 1–25. doi: 10.2307/204563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kopels, S. (2012). Safe haven laws and school social work. School Social Work Journal, 36(2), 27–43.Google Scholar
  26. McKee, G. R. (2006). Why mothers kill: A forensic psychologist’s casebook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meyer, C., Oberman, M., & Rone, M. (2001). Mothers who kill their children: Understanding the acts of moms from Susan Smith to the “prom mom”. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mondo, M. (2014, January 15). Mom said she strangled newborn, watched him die. San Antonio Express News. Retrieved from
  29. National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center. (2005, December). Boarder babies, abandoned infants, and discarded infants. Retrieved June 9, 2014, from
  30. National Safe Haven Alliance. (n.d.). Baby safe haven – Abandoned infant protection laws. Retrieved January 4, 2015, from
  31. Oberman, M. (2008). Comment: Infant abandonment in Texas. Child Maltreatment, 13(1), 94–95. doi: 10.1177/1077559507310044.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ontiveros, S. (2014, February 14). Pass the word, Illinois’ safe haven law works. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved from
  33. Partida, A. L. (2002). The case for ‘safe haven’ laws: Choosing the lesser of two evils in a disposable society. New England Journal on Criminal & Civil Confinement, 28, 61–61.Google Scholar
  34. Patterson, J. (2014, May 7). Dinwiddie mother walks free after newborn drowns in toilet. CBS6. Retrieved from
  35. Pertman, A., & Deoudes, G. (2008). Comment: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute response. Child Maltreatment, 13(1), 98–100. doi: 10.1177/1077559507310368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pollock, K., & Hittle, L. (2003). Baby abandonment: The role of child welfare systems. Retrieved from
  37. Pruitt, S. L. (2008). The number of illegally abandoned and legally surrendered newborns in the state of Texas, estimated from news stories, 1996–2006. Child Maltreatment, 13(1), 89–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rafferty, A. (2013, February 28). Hoping for a ‘fresh start,’ mother abandons child in woods. NBC News. Retrieved from
  39. Ranney, D. (2010, July 14). Tragedies continue but safe haven law remains unused. Kansas Health Institute. Retrieved from
  40. Recognizing Mobile County district attorney John Tyson and his work in creating the Alabama Secret Safe Place program, U.S. House of Representatives E1615 (2008).Google Scholar
  41. Ryan, M., Caputo, N. D., & Berrett, O. M. (2014). Safe Haven Laws: Lack of awareness, misinformation, and shortfalls in resident education. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 32(1), 98–100. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2013.10.015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. (2015). Time line & facts. Chicago, IL: Save Abandoned Babies Foundation.Google Scholar
  43. Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. (n.d.-a). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved January 20, 2015, from
  44. Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. (n.d.-b). Safe haven law teacher's kit. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from
  45. Tebo, M. G. (2001). Texas Idea Takes Off. ABA Journal, 87(9), 30.Google Scholar
  46. Tilly, L. A., Fuchs, R. G., Kertzer, D. I., & Ransel, D. L. (1992). Child abandonment in European history: A symposium. Journal of Family History, 17(1), 1–23. doi: 10.1177/036319909201700101.Google Scholar
  47. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (1994). Children’s Bureau: Report to the Congress: National estimates on the number of boarder babies, the cost of their care, and the number of abandonment infants. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.Google Scholar
  48. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (1998). 1998 National estimates of the number of boarder babies, abandoned infants and discarded infants. Washington, DC. Retrieved from
  49. United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2014). Concluding observations on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Russian Federation (CRC/C/RUS/CO/4-5). Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily M. Douglas
    • 1
  1. 1.Bridgewater State UniversityBridgewaterUSA

Personalised recommendations