Improvements Needed to Make Safe Havens Law More Effective

May 24, 2017

In the early hours of May 24, my colleagues and I in the State Senate voted to approve changes to Connecticut’s Safe Haven Law. The law allows the parents of newborns who feel they cannot care for that child, to safely leave the baby at a hospital. At the time, we did not know about the baby boy who’d been abandoned behind a grocer in Danbury.

The irony of these coinciding events is not lost on me. Neither is the importance of the changes we made to the Safe Havens Law and the need for more education about the protections the law provides to parents giving up their newborns.

This most recent incidence of infant abandonment already has a happy ending. The baby boy was found alive within a few hours of his birth. Police immediately took him to a local hospital where he is reportedly in good condition.

Unfortunately, many incidents of infant abandonment don’t have a happy ending. A child abandoned in an alley or behind a building is not always found in time, and all too often dies from exposure or other causes.

In 2000, the legislature passed the Safe Havens Law precisely to prevent the needless deaths of abandoned infants. Parents can remain anonymous and will not be prosecuted when they leave a child that is less than 30-days-old at a local hospital emergency room.

The changes approved May 24 speed up the process of matching a safe haven baby with a Department of Children and Families-approved caregiver. It also further protects the identity of the child’s birth parents.

I recognize that these changes would not have made a difference in this most recent incident. It is likely that the mother of the baby found in Danbury does not know about the Safe Haven Law, or if she is undocumented, feared detainment if she went to a hospital.

The primary focus of the Safe Havens Law is, and should continue to be the safety of infants born to people unable to take on the role of parent. This means more education is needed. It’s been recommended that the teaching of the Safe Havens Law be required in high school health classes.

We also must maintain the intent of the law to hold the safe havens parent harmless. The law cannot be effective if parents, for any reason, are afraid to bring the infant to a safe haven. They must be assured that no legal actions will be taken against them.

The lives of innocent children are at stake and the loss of a single, abandoned child, is one too many. We must, and we will do better.

Senator Michael McLachlan (R-24) represents the communities of Bethel, Danbury, New Fairfield, and Sherman.