The Tennessee Safe Haven Law, enacted July 1, 2001, allows mothers of newborns to surrender their unharmed baby within 14 days of birth, confidentially 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 confidentially bring her unharmed baby, 14 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.
What started 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 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 14 days old.
What will happen to the baby?
Once the unharmed baby is safely handed to facility personnel, it will be examined and taken to a hospital. Whenever 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?
Once the unharmed baby is safely handed to facility personnel, you are free to leave. Facility staff may offer to accompany you to a private room, but information does not have to be given. 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 baby safely and confidentially under the law. Her parents will not be contacted.
Will the worker ask for information?
The facility staff member 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 also 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 facility?
No, the mother must bring the baby herself. She could have the father or someone else with her, but she must be present to surrender the baby. The person accepting the newborn must know that it is the mother’s decision and that no one is forcing or pressuring her to do so.
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. The purpose of this law is to newborn abandonment.
What if the mother or father changes their mind and wants the baby back?
The law does not prevent a mother or father from changing their mind. The baby may be assigned an identification number, which will also be given to the mother and the father, if present. 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. If the father is not involved, yet wants to reclaim the baby within the 30 day window, he must legally register as the child's father through DCS and can take necessary steps from there. Either parent 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 (7233). Calls are completely anonymous, confidential, not recorded, or 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.
Where may I view the Tennessee Safe Haven Law?
The Tennessee Safe Haven Law may be viewed on the state’s website here. You may also view it under the "About Us" tab.
What if I am under 16 and/or unable to drive to a facility?
If the mother does not have a ride, or is not of age to drive, she may call our helpline, staffed 24/7 by Rural Metro, and a first responder will go to the mother and take the baby from there.