Safe Haven Laws: The differences between Georgia and Tennessee
Cries from the woods alerted neighbors to a baby in a plastic bag on the side of a road in Forsyth County, Georgia. This newborn nicknamed "Baby India" could have been surrendered under the Georgia Safe Haven Law with no consequence to the mother.
Sarah Koeppen is the Executive Director of The Hope Box, a Safe Haven Alliance in Georgia. She said this happens too often.
"I can tell you this, we're not reaching enough. In 2017 we had 478 abandonments." said Koeppen.
In Georgia, the Safe Haven Law states that mothers can surrender their babies within 30 days of its birth without fear of prosecution. In Tennessee women only have 72 hours.
Here is Tennessee's Safe Haven Law:
"The Tennessee Safe Haven law allows mothers of newborns to surrender unharmed babies to designated facilities within 72 hours of birth without fear of being prosecuted. As long as the baby is unharmed and the child is surrendered within 72 hours of birth, the mother -- or parents -- will not be prosecuted and is assured of complete confidentiality. The law was enacted to reduce the number of unsafe abandonment of babies."
Here is Georgia's Safe Haven Law:
"This law allows a child's mother to leave her baby, up to 30 days old, with an employee of any medical facility including any hospital, institutional infirmary, health center or birthing center in Georgia without prosecution. This includes Hospitals, Fire Stations and Police Stations."
"The law is in place so that if they need medical assistance after delivering a baby, they can get medical care, and they will not be prosecuted and they can remain anonymous," said Koeppen.
Kayla Ridenour is the Executive Director for a Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee. She said mothers have to surrender babies to a person at a manned fire station, police department, health department or hospital. Their website has a map with locations a mother can surrender their infant in Tennessee.
"Because what happens to the baby, less than 24 hours after they're surrendered, DCS steps in and they immediately try to get the baby to an adopted family," said Ridenour.
But if the mother changes her mind after the surrender, there is a way to get the child back.
"The child is given a bracelet. The mother is given a bracelet, and the father can have one as well. They have 30 days to change their minds," said Ridenour.
Both Secret Safe Place and Hope Box have helplines for mothers in crisis:
- Secret Safe Place Helpline: 1-866-699-SAFE
- The Hope Box Hotline: (770) 765-6301
Koeppen said a mother can call and they will help with no judgment.
"And we have met girls in parking lots in that position and so we're able to say to them don't abandon your baby there are options and we will help you work through every single option," said Koeppen.