Understanding Texas's Baby Moses or Safe Haven Law
The Baby Moses Law
The Baby Moses Law, also known as the Safe Haven Law, allows parents to legally abandon their children with no questions asked. The purpose of the law is to provide a responsible option for distressed parents who see no alternative beyond infant abandonment.
Texas passed the nation's first Baby Moses law in 1999 after a sudden increase in deserted infants. Since the passage of the law, over one hundred babies have been safely relinquished and each state has enacted similar legislation to reduce infant abandonment. Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of this option and still resort to more negligent means during their distress.
This article explores the origins of the law, how to use the law, and what happens to the child after they are delivered.
Background of Texas' Baby Moses Law
In 1999, 13 abandoned babies were discovered in Houston over a ten month period. Several of the circumstances suggested that mothers may have wanted what was best for their babies but felt they had no other outlet.
Texas lawmakers responded by creating an outlet. Texas Representative Geanie W. Morrison (Victoria) authored House Bill 3423 (HB 3423), which would allow responsible child abandonment within specific guidelines.
The bill passed through the state legislature with no opposition and Governor George W. Bush signed the bill into law on June 3, 1999. The law went into effect September 1, 1999.
HB 3423 created three major changes to Texas law:
- Authorized parents legal abandonment of their children up to a specific age. (Currently 60 days; originally 30 days)
- Authorized a provider of Emergency Medical Services to take possession of an unwanted baby.
- Authorized the court to terminate the child/parent relationship if abandoned according to the stated rules.
Texas' Baby Moses Law became the nation's first safe haven law of its kind. By 2008, all 50 states had some form of safe haven law to address the issue of infant abandonment.
Rep. Geanie Morrison Discusses the Baby Moses Law
How Does Texas' Baby Moses Law Work?
Texas' Baby Moses Law attempts to make things as simple as possible.
In order for a parent to responsibly abandon their child, the child must be within 60 days in age. Following 60 days, the Safe Haven law is no longer available and a separate service, such as adoption, will need to be pursued.
Next, a parent needs to find an approved location to safely leave the baby with emergency medical services personnel.
Emergency medical services personnel can be found at any of these approved locations:
- Fire Station
- EMS Station
- Free Standing Emergency Room
The majority of these locations have a yellow "Safe Baby Site" sign posted for public visibility.
If a parent wishes, a third party can hand over the child. The parent is not required to be present for the transfer of care.
As long as the child has no signs of physical abuse, the child is taken with no questions asked. A mother may provide important information for the child's well being, such as family medical history, child medical history, allergies, etc. However, it is not required.
Once the hand off is complete, the child will continue through the appropriate channels of the safe baby process. No attempt will be made to find the parents and the parents can still return to regain custody at a later date. The latter, however, will be a more complex process.
What Happens to the Baby Following Transfer of Care?
Once a baby is given to a Safe Baby Site, a standard process begins.
- The child receives an immediate medical evaluation by first responders to ensure no immediate life threats need to be managed.
- Per system protocol, the child may be transported to a designated hospital, such as a children's hospital, for further medical evaluation.
- The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services will be notified of the child and they will take over care, control, and custody.
Hospital/Free Standing Emergency Room
- The child will receive a medical evaluation on site.
- System policy will be followed.
- The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services will be notified of the child and they will take over care, control, and custody of the child.
The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services will enter the child into foster care and perform administrative duties that will eventually lead the child toward the adoption process.
Does Anyone Use the Baby Moses Law?
Since 2004, 131 babies have been responsibly abandoned due to the Safe Haven law. 2004 is the earliest year that data was actively managed. The two largest years have been 2009 (19) and 2016 (16). The data for 2017 is only good through December and is not accurate of the state's final numbers.
Listing of Infants Received by Year Because of the Baby Moses Law
Is There Still a Need for the Baby Moses Law?
In 2017, Texas was home to several notable stories of infant abandonment. Four specific events occupied state headlines for weeks:
- In January a child was found outside of a San Antonio apartment complex with the umbilical cord still attached.
- In August a six hour old child was found on the sidewalk of a Houston apartment complex covered in ants.
- In September an hours old child was found in a Dallas 7-11 bathroom trash can.
- In October a baby girl was found in an Austin apartment dumpster.
Supporters of the Baby Moses Law believe that a lack of awareness is at the heart of these kinds of events. Despite some state sponsored initiatives, awareness of the Baby Moses Law is mainly achieved through grassroots efforts in local communities.
What to Do if You Decided to Use the Baby Moses Law
If you are a parent or someone assisting a parent with this decision, here is a checklist.
This check list does not include emotional preparation or reaching out to available resources prior to making this decision. It is meant to provide a specific list for using the Baby Moses Law.
- Make sure that the baby is within the 60 days age limit.
- Choose a Safe Baby Site (Fire Department, EMS Station, Hospital, Free Standing ER).
- Choose who will be doing the surrendering of the child. (Mother or Third Party)
- [Optional] Create a folder with the child's medical history, family medical history, allergies, heritage, and any other details that could help them in the future.
- Go to the Safe Baby Site for the exchange.
- Speak to an employee at the Safe Baby Site and tell them that you want to leave your baby at a Safe Haven.
The decision to relinquish custody of a child can be difficult. In order to better understand the process or to discuss this decision with another person, contact the Texas Baby Moses Hotline at 1-877-904-SAVE or Baby Safe Haven's confidential hotline at 1-888-510-BABY.
How You Can Help
If you are interested in helping support the law, consider these three avenues of assistance:
- Find a local organization and spread awareness about the law.
- Donate financially to organizations assisting with the law.
- Consider becoming a Texas foster parent.
It may be difficult to find a local organization. A decent starting point is searching a city's web page and exploring their listed resources. The City of Weatherford actually lists its Safe Baby Sites and highlights its partner program with Alliance for Children. Another starting point would be local hospitals or child advocacy services. If no local resources can be located, contact the Texas Department of Family Protective Services for more guidance.