What is the Tennessee Safe Haven Law?
The Tennessee Safe Haven Law, enacted July 1, 2001, allows mothers of newborns to surrender unharmed babies within 72 hours of birth, anonymously and without fear of prosecution for abandonment.
How does the law work?
A mother who is not willing or able to care for her newborn may anonymously bring her unharmed baby, 3 days old or younger, to staff at any hospital, birthing center, community health clinic, outpatient “walk-in” clinic, EMS facility, fire station (only if staffed 24 hours), or law enforcement facility (only if staffed 24 hours.) The mother does not have to give her name or any other information.
Behind the Law
In October 2000, a newborn baby girl was found abandoned in a shed in Townsend, Tennessee. The 14 year old mother had concealed her pregnancy and given birth to the infant alone in her home. The mother hid the baby in a neighbor’s shed. The baby died of severe dehydration; the mother was charged with first degree murder and sentenced to state custody. Two local women made it their mission that history would not be repeated and gained the support of legislators to draft the “Safe Haven Law.”
What is considered a newborn?
A baby up to 72 hours or 3 days old.
What will happen to the baby
You can hand your baby to a worker. Once your baby is surrendered it will be examined and taken to a hospital. When the baby is released from the hospital, the local Department of Children’s Services (DCS) office will find an adoptive family for the baby. The baby may be placed in foster care until the adoption process begins.
What happens to the mother
If you decide to leave your baby, you are free to leave. Your baby must be unharmed. The surrender of your baby is 100% confidential. The police and family members will not be notified.
What if the mother is a minor?
Age does not matter. Any female can give up her unwanted baby under the law, safely and confidentially. Her parents will not be contacted.
Will the worker ask for information?
The Worker taking the baby may ask for information, but must tell the mother she is not required to answer. If the mother wants to give medical history information that will be helpful for the baby’s adoptive parents, she may give that information and her confidentiality will still be protected. The mother may take a medical history form with her and mail it back in without giving her name.
Can I ask someone else to bring my baby to a safe haven?
No, the mother must bring the baby herself. She could have the father of the baby or someone else with her, but she must be present to surrender the baby. The person accepting the baby must know that it is the mother’s decision and that no one is forcing her or pressuring her to do it.
Can't a mother just give the baby up for adoption?
Yes. Anyone wishing to place a baby for adoption is free to do so. The Safe Haven Law provides a legal and safe alternative for young women who are too scared to tell anyone else they are pregnant. Some young women hide their pregnancies and feel they have no other choice but to abandon their babies somewhere. This law provides a safe and legal alternative to newborn abandonment.
What if the mother changes her mind and wants her baby back?
The law does not prevent a mother from changing her mind. The baby may be assigned an identification number, which will also be given to the mother. If the mother changes her mind, she must contact her local Department of Children’s Services office within 30 days of surrendering her baby to a Safe Haven location or she will lose her right to reclaim the baby. She can call the Helpline at 1-866-699-SAFE for more information.
What if I have other questions about the safe haven law?
Call the Secret Safe Place for Newborns Helpline at 1-866-699-SAFE. Calls are completely anonymous and confidential, not recorded, and not linked to a caller ID system. You will not be asked your name and no one will be told that you called. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (Please note that emails are not monitored 24 hours a day. If you need a question answered immediately, please call the Helpline at 1-866-699-7233)
Where may I view the tennessee safe haven law?
The Tennessee Safe Haven Law may be viewed on the state’s website here.