Sunday, 28 November 2021

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Virginia General Assembly Adopts "Safe Haven" Bill

Effective July 1, 2003, a state law went into effect which creates a "safe haven" if a parent leaves a newborn child up to 14 days old in either a hospital that provides 24-hour emergency services or a rescue squad that employs EMS providers.

The law is aimed at distressed parents who want to surrender an unwanted infant in a safe and confidential environment.

Emergency medical personnel assume that a parent considering this safe haven for an infant will not distinguish between a rescue squad and a fire station.  Some have expressed concern that a fire or rescue station might be manned, but the crew may not be in the station and the distressed parent might leave the infant anyway.  Some are also concerned that doorbells and other means for a visitor to be announced at a fire or rescue station are needed.  Most agree, however, that this safe haven law is preferable to the lack of alternatives that often results in an infant death.

The law also protects the safe haven provider from prosecution as long as there is no gross negligence or willful misconduct.  Safe haven providers include firefighters, EMS personnel or hospital staff members.

As soon as an infant is received, the safe haven provider should ensure the safety of the infant, and assess and treat any emergency medical conditions.  If possible, a medical history and other background should be obtained from the parent.  Providers should not force a parent to give information or stay on the scene nor should providers pursue the parent.  As soon as possible, the local department of social services, child protective services should be notified.

Rescue squads and hospitals will likely have emergency medical equipment necessary to treat an infant in need of care.  All potential safe haven providers should also assess the need for and keep on hand a small supply of infant diapers, a soft blanket, a head bonnet or cap, baby wipes, infant formula and disposable bottle.  You should also make sure the local social services, child protective services contact information is posted and current, and check with them to see if they, or you, will provide an infant car safety seat for infant transportation.

A summary of the bill is provided below: 

Protection of infants. Provides that when a parent voluntarily delivers a child no older than 14 days to a hospital or rescue squad, the parent will have an affirmative defense to prosecution for abuse or neglect, if the abuse or neglect prosecution is based solely upon having left the baby at such facility. Personnel who accept babies under these conditions are immune from liability absent gross negligence or willful misconduct. This bill is identical to HB 2447. 

Link to the bill: docman/

Local policies should be developed with input from your local Department of Social Services.


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