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Florida updates Safe Haven law, extends age limit for infant surrender

by | Jun 27, 2024

By Kim Hayes

Florida has joined 22 other states in extending its infant surrender law to allow a 30-day surrender period up from seven days of age. Additional amendments to the law include a provision for the mom to call 911 for a direct surrender to responders, provided she remains with the baby until their arrival.

Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature means HB 775 takes effect on July 1, 2024. The anonymous surrender granted by the law provides parents immunity from criminal prosecution if there are no indications of abuse or neglect.

The extension to 30 days is vital to situations where premature infants in hospital NICU’s are left by a mother who does not return. The smaller window of seven days created an issue where hospital staff are uncertain if the parent would return.

Pam Stenzel, Development director for Safe Haven Baby Boxes  (SHBB) spoke with Pregnancy Help News, sharing an example of a call she received on their national hotline from a NICU nurse in south Florida.

“An 18-year-old delivered in their hospital and the baby needed to be in NICU,” Stenzel said. “She had hidden the pregnancy from family and everyone and she just wasn’t returning.”

Stenzel praised the extending of the timeframe for infants from seven to 30 days but expressed concern over the law’s failure to address the use of safe haven baby boxes.

“Because of the way it is worded, it does not expressly prohibit the use of an infant safety device,” she noted. “Some states expressly in their language say the infant must be handed to a person.”

She continued, saying that Florida’s law says the infant must be surrendered at a fire station or hospital which allows SHBB to continue to operate the two infant safety devices already available in the state, in Ocala and Newberry, with plans to install more.

SHBB has placed infant safety devices in 17 states so far with currently 23 states allowing for the utilization of safe haven baby boxes by law.

“Since 2016, when the first box opened in Indiana, we have had 238 active baby boxes in operation,” Stenzel said. “We’ve helped 153 women surrender face-to-face and 49 infants safely surrendered in a baby box.”

Stenzel advocates for the utilization of infant safety devices to provide another option for the safe surrender of infants for those who would be too fearful to seek out a face-to-face hand off.

These boxes are climate controlled, have a silent alarm to notify emergency personnel of the placement of an infant, and an orange bag with vital medical and other information for the birth mother to take with her.

The founder of SHBB, Monica Kelsey, recalled one hotline call where a mom expressed why she wanted to utilize an infant safety device as opposed to a face-to-face surrender.

“I didn’t want them talking me out of a decision that took me so long to make,” Kelsey said the mom had shared.

SHBB encourages all states to update infant surrender laws to include language which specifically addresses the use of infant safety devices to eliminate any confusion to specifically indemnify birth parents who seek to utilize safe haven baby boxes.

The new Florida surrender law enables safe surrender at hospitals which provides for essential medical care while anonymity is maintained.

Specifically, the text of Florida HB 775 states, “When an infant is born in a hospital and the mother expresses intent to leave the infant and not return, upon the mother’s request, the hospital or registrar shall complete the infant’s birth certificate without naming the mother thereon.”

Leah Kipley, the assistant director of National Safe Haven Alliance (NSHA), also spoke with Pregnancy Help News about the new Florida law, which she commends for expanding protections and safe options for at-risk parents and infants.

“Extending the age limit an infant can be surrendered to 30 days old or younger, including 911 services as designated Safe Haven providers, and allowing a parent to surrender their infant in the hospital of delivery, are particularly meaningful changes to the law that are in line with a comprehensive, model Safe Haven law,” Kipley stated.

NSHA acts as a resource for best practices on legal, safe infant relinquishment and safe options for parents and infants to prevent the tragedy of infant abandonment. They operate a 24/7 Safe Haven crisis hotline which to date has documented over 4,800 infants safely surrendered nationwide.

NSHA tracks the laws of all 50 states with updates on their website. Their goal is to see a federal law established which would provide a uniform set of standards across the country while states individually could implement additional directives as appropriate.

A federal law, according to NSHA, would decrease the confusion for parents and providers of rescue services as well as improve data collection and increase awareness.

The basic law which NSHA hopes to see in place in order to provide a consistent standard for safe surrender nationwide would include the following components: Age of infant up to 30 days; the infant may be relinquished at fire/EMS station, hospital, police station, or via a 911 call; hospital delivery with anonymity retained; a designated Safe Haven hotline promoted through awareness campaigns; signage and education regarding all state approved Safe Haven providers; and a provision for data collection.

“Sometimes it’s not the baby that is the crisis,” Kipley noted in reference to the importance of the work of Safe Haven crisis hotlines. “We try to find a way we can connect them to resources that they need so they don’t have to do this in the first place.”

A Safe Haven For Newborns has been operating a hotline for more than two decades and has aided over 6,000 families in crisis while the safe surrenders in the same time period has been over 400. Nick Silverio is the founder and director of the organization.

“We are pleased with how the statue is amended,” Silverio said of the Florida law update.

“It provides the mother with more options and allows her additional time to make the best decision for her and her newborn baby,” he said.

While every state has laws which address the ability to safely surrender an infant without fear of prosecution, the age of the infant varies anywhere from three days in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Washington, and Wisconsin, to the longest period allowed in North Dakota, which is up to one year of age.

Raising awareness of the law and the options available to moms in crisis continues as a cause being championed by various organizations throughout the pro-life community.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at Pregnancy Help News and is reprinted here with permission. 

Categories: State Legislation