According to national statistics, from 1991 to 1998, child abandonment in public places increased 62%. Of the 105 children abandoned in public places in 1998, 33 were found dead.
In New Jersey, dramatic accounts in the newspapers and television underscored the problem. In November 1996, New Jersey residents attending college in Delaware dumped their newborn into a motel trash bin. In June 1997, a teen gave birth in a public bathroom stall, next to where her high school prom was being held. She wrapped the baby in a garbage can liner, put it in the trashcan, and returned to her prom. In both cases, the babies died.
Similar tragedies were occurring in other states. The old child abandonment laws were not working. The legal ways to give up an unwanted child were too complex for scared, uninformed young mothers. People began looking for a way to solve the problem.
The Start of the Solution
In 1998, the District Attorney in Mobile, Alabama, conceived the idea of establishing a "Safe Haven" for unwanted infants. The pilot program proved to be successful, with five babies brought to hospital emergency rooms. On September 1, 1999, Texas became the first state to pass legislation allowing a parent to give up an infant anonymously. Louisiana, Alabama, and Minnesota established laws in early 2000. New Jersey was the fifth state to pass Safe Haven legislation, modeled after the Texas law. The movement continued to grow and today, all states have a Safe Haven law.
New Jersey Offers a Safe Haven
On August 7, 2000, the New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act became law. Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jack Collins and Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk and Senators Anthony Bucco, Gerald Cardinale, Diane Allen and John Girgenti, the law allows a distressed parent who is unable or unwilling to care for an infant to give up custody of a baby who is less than 30 days old, safely, legally and anonymously. All that is required is that the baby be brought to a hospital emergency room or police station in New Jersey. As long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse, no names or other information is required from the person delivering the baby.
How many babies have been saved by Safe Haven?
As of January 2014, 60 newborns have been surrendered under Safe Haven. Click here for further statistical information.
In addition to these 60, there are several other children who are now safe as a result of the Safe Haven law. In one case, a mother planning to anonymously give up her baby changed her mind and decided to conduct an open adoption of her child. In another example, the child was brought to a firehouse (instead of a police station or hospital). In another case, both parents brought the child to a DCF Child Protection and Permanency office.
While these and other incidents do not legally qualify as Safe Haven cases, the children involved are safe thanks to the parents' awareness of Safe Haven. It is also very likely that awareness of Safe Haven has led others who could not cope with parenthood to seek other safe alternatives, such as adoption through Child Protection and Permanency or private agencies.
The Work Continues
In the 12 months before Safe Haven was passed, eight babies were abandoned in public places. In the first 12 months of Safe Haven, there were only two.
From August 2000 to January 2014, 38 children have been illegally abandoned, which averages less than three abandoned children per year. This is a more than 60 percent reduction in illegal child abandonment compared to the year before Safe Haven was passed.