This month, New Jersey’s Safe Haven Infant Protection Act celebrates its 10th anniversary. To date, statistics show that at least 47 babies, including one in Hunterdon County, have been surrendered safely under the provisions of this Act. (1)
This law was enacted to help prevent instances like that which occurred in Edison, NJ, this past winter. During a cold February snowstorm, a newborn infant boy was abandoned, wrapped only in a towel, on the hood of a car parked outside of a senior care facility. (2) He was just one of 32 infants abandoned illegally during the ten years that the State’s Safe Haven Law has been in existence. (1)
Fortunately, the Edison baby was discovered and brought to JFK Medical Center, where he was examined and found to be in good condition. Weather conditions on that day, however, could have caused a much different and tragic outcome. Officials estimated that a child left in those conditions probably would not have survived such exposure for more than one hour. (2)
It isn’t only the children that the Law protects. Parents who illegally abandon their babies could face charges of child endangerment, abandonment and worse, depending on the outcome.
New Jersey’s Safe Haven Law protects both child and parent by allowing parents, or someone designated by the parent, to safely surrender unwanted infants up to 30 days old at local police stations or hospitals without prosecution. The Law guarantees anonymity for the person surrendering the infant, except when child neglect or abuse is evident. Otherwise, no questions are asked. Information voluntarily offered by the surrendering parent though, particularly medical information, will be recorded for use in future adoption proceedings. Surrendering parents are also offered information on medical and social services available to them. (1)
Infants surrendered under the Safe Haven Law are turned over to New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and placed with pre-adoptive or foster families. Parents have 21 days to reclaim their child should they have a change of heart. After that time, it is assumed that, by voluntarily abandoning the child, the parents have relinquished their parental rights. This satisfies the federal requirement for termination of parental rights proceedings before adoptions can take place. (3)