According to the law, parents have a legal obligation to protect and care for their children. Failure to do this can result in the involvement of DCF as well as criminal charges. There is one instance, however, where a parent can abandon a very young child to the State’s care without facing any type of liability. This happens under a “safe haven” law, which has some strict guidelines.
What is the Safe Haven Act in Connecticut?
Safe haven laws have been enacted in all 50 U.S. states, including Connecticut. The purpose of the law is to protect children from harm that may come to them due to abandonment. Also called a “Baby Moses law,” the first safe haven law was enacted in Texas in 1999. Connecticut passed its law to protect infants only a year later.
Under Connecticut’s Safe Havens Act for Newborns, a parent can voluntarily surrender an infant that is age 30 days or younger to the nursing staff of an emergency room. The parent will not be subject to arrest for abandonment but could face charges if neglect or abuse has occurred.
Once a parent notifies the emergency room staff of their intentions, they will be asked to sit down with a nurse to answer a few questions. The nurse would like to know about the child’s medical history and both parent’s names and addresses. The information about the parents is voluntary.
The surrendering parent is given information about what happens next as well as how they can contact the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). Within 24 hours, the hospital must contact DCF to take custody of the infant, and the agency will begin planning for permanent care. These plans involve the termination of parental rights, which frees the child up for adoption.
Can You Change Your Mind After Abandonment?
A parent that surrenders their child to the state, provided they give their name and contact information at the time, will receive a notice of hearing within 30 days. DCF must notify both parents of this hearing and may attempt to do so through a notice in the local newspaper.
The hearing date is vital because the court can terminate parental rights, meaning a parent can no longer make decisions for the child, and the child will be eligible for adoption. A parent can change their mind and request to be reunified with the child, but this request must be made before the first hearing.
If the court grants the DCF petition for termination, the agency will appoint a statutory parent and will begin the process of creating an adoption plan. When an adoption is finalized, it will be done through the juvenile courts.
Do Safe Haven Laws Work?
Safe Haven laws work well when they prevent babies from being unnecessarily abandoned and harmed. There is a stark contrast between infants turned over to safe haven sites and those that are left in less than ideal locations in what is likely a troubled or desperate situation.
Experts point out that parents who abandon a child are most likely not thinking clearly and, at the time, feel as if they have no other options. But safe haven laws, when communicated properly, at least give these parents a safer alternative.
Since these laws were enacted over 20 years ago, more than 4,000 infants have been safely surrendered to various safe havens. But no laws are perfect. If a parent does surrender a child in a moment of desperation to keep them safe, they still have legal rights.
Having Legal Representation After Surrendering an Infant
If a parent changes their mind after surrendering an infant, regaining custody from DCF is not a simple matter. The court can terminate parental rights at the first hearing, so it is vital that parents speak with an experienced attorney about their rights.
It is also essential to note that the legal right to abandon a child ends soon after birth. And there is nothing in a Safe Haven Law that allows harm or neglect to a child under any circumstances. In some cases, DCF can become involved in your life although you do not think their involvement is necessary.
Contact An Experienced Connecticut DCF Attorney
The Christie Law Firm, LLC is dedicated to protecting the interests of parents and their children when DCF steps in to investigate allegations of child neglect or abuse in a home. This is a serious matter, and you have a right to have qualified legal counsel in your corner. Contact our Hartford office today at (860) 461-7494 to schedule an initial consultation to learn more about your options.