In October 2000, a newborn baby girl was found in a shed in Townsend, Tennessee. Her 14-year-old mother had concealed her pregnancy and given birth to the baby alone in her home. In order to hide the pregnancy and the birth, she abandoned the baby in a neighbor’s shed. The baby died of severe dehydration and the teen was later charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to state custody.
Devastated by this tragic event, two Blount County women, Shawna McConnell and Lisa Yount, were determined that no other babies would fall victim to similar circumstances. The efforts of Shawna, Lisa, Tennessee State Sen. Doug Overbey, former State Rep. Joe McCord, former State Sen. Bill Clabough, Blount County Sheriff James Berrong, District Attorney Generals Mike Flynn and Randy Nichols, and other legislators and concerned citizens resulted in the passage of Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law in June 2001.
The law, enacted on July 1, 2001 and amended in 2009, allows mothers of newborns to surrender unharmed babies to staff at designated facilities within 72 hours of birth without fear of being prosecuted. As long as the baby is unharmed and the mother acts within 72 hours of birth, she will not be prosecuted and is assured of complete confidentiality. Her baby and her secret will be safe. *The law was revised in June 2020 to allow mother's 14 days to safely surrender their newborn.
Without awareness of the Safe Haven Law, unsafe abandonment of newborn babies will continue. Educating the public about the legislation is crucial. A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee, Inc., a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, supports and assists facilities where mothers can surrender their babies, operates a 24-hour helpline to answer questions, and educates young women across the state about this legal alternative to infant abandonment. Scared and desperate teens and women who are hiding a pregnancy must know that there is a better option than abandoning their babies. The goal of a Secret Safe Place is to prevent newborn abandonment through education and public awareness. Our organization’s public awareness efforts includes disseminating information through printed resources, billboards, television, mall, movie, digital, and print ads, news articles, the Secret Safe Place website, social media, and educational programs. More than 100 babies have been safely surrendered statewide under Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law since 2001.
For more information about A Secret Safe Place for Newborns, its efforts, and how you can help, please contact us.