Florida Safe Haven Laws


Safe haven laws were enacted in Florida in response to the tragedy resulting from abandonment of newborns.  The safe haven law is a safety net which allows parents to abandon their unharmed newborns not more than a week old at any safe haven facility recognized by the state laws without fear of prosecution.

Any hospital, emergency medical service station or fire station staffed with full time emergency medical service technicians, paramedics, or fire fighters may accept custody of a new born infant surrendered by its parents.[i]  Fla. Stat. § 383.50(1) defines a “new born infant” as a child who a licensed physician believes to be approximately not older than seven days when it is abandoned at the hospital, emergency medical service station, or fire station.

On accepting physical custody, the firefighter/emergency medical technician/paramedic shall:

  • Provide emergency medical services to the newborn to the extent they are trained to provide those services.[ii]
  • Arrange for the transport of newborn infant to the nearest hospital having emergency medical services.[iii]

Fire department, licensee as defined in section 401.23, or an employee or agent of a licensee or fire department may treat and transport a newborn infant.  Fla. Stat. § 401.23 defines licensee as any basic life support service, advanced life support service, or air ambulance service, licensed pursuant to the medical transportation services.
Hospitals must admit and provide all necessary emergency services and care to any newborn infant surrendered to hospitals according to the safe haven laws.  Fla. Stat. § 395.002 defines “Emergency services and care” as medical screening, examination, and evaluation by a physician, or any other appropriate personnel under the supervision of the physician.  It involves examination to determine if an emergency medical condition exists and, if it does, the care, treatment, or surgery by a physician necessary to relieve or eliminate the emergency medical condition, within the service capability of the facility.

Any newborn infant admitted to a hospital in accordance with the safe haven laws is presumed to be eligible for coverage under Medicaid, subject to federal rules.[iv]On accepting physical custody of a newborn infant the hospital authorities accepting custody shall:

  • Immediately contact a licensed child-placing agency to transfer the physical custody of the newborn.  If the hospital authorities are not aware of any licensed child-placing agency, it may contact the statewide central abuse hotline for the name of a licensed child-placing agency.  The hospital authorities shall notify the child-placing agency that an abandoned infant has been taken into custody by the hospital.  The hospital shall also enquire the time within which the child-placing agency can take physical custody of the newborn.[v]
  • Report actual or suspected child abuse or neglect according to sections 39.201 and 395.1023 if the hospital authorities suspect that the abandoned infant has been a victim of child abuse or neglect.[vi]

Any newborn infant left at a hospital, emergency medical services station, or fire station in accordance with the safe haven laws shall not be deemed to be abandoned and subject to reporting and investigation requirements. [vii]  Reporting is required only if there is actual or suspected child abuse; and if the department takes physical custody of the child. [viii]  Criminal investigations may not be initiated on the sole ground of the abandonment of the child unless there is actual or suspected child abuse or neglect.[ix]
A licensee, fire department, or an employee or agent of a licensee or fire department is immune from criminal or civil liability for all acts done in good faith while providing primary care and transporting the newborn to a hospital.  However, they are not immune from liability for negligent acts.[x]

Hospitals or any licensed health care professionals accepting custody of a newborn infant  is immune from any civil or criminal liability for all acts done in good faith while accepting custody and providing emergency services and care to the newborn.  However, they are not immune from liability for negligent acts. [xi]

Any licensed child-placing agency that takes physical custody of an infant surrendered at a hospital, emergency medical services station, or fire station according to the safe haven laws shall:

  • assume responsibility for all medical and other costs associated with  the emergency services and care of the surrendered infant from the time the licensed child-placing agency takes physical custody of the surrendered infant.[xii]
  • immediately seek an order from the circuit court for emergency custody of the surrendered infant. The emergency custody order shall remain in effect until the court orders preliminary approval of surrendered infant’s placement in the prospective home.  Once the court orders preliminary approval, the prospective adoptive parents become guardians of the surrendered infant pending termination of parental rights and finalization of adoption or until the court orders otherwise. [xiii]  The guardianship of the prospective adoptive parents remains until the licensed child-placing agency removes the child from the placement in the best interests of the child, during the pendency of the proceedings.  After removal, the licensed child-placing agency may immediately seek to place the surrendered infant in a prospective adoptive home.[xiv]
  • within 24 hours of taking custody of the newborn, request assistance from law enforcement officials to investigate and determine if the surrendered infant is a missing child.  The Missing Children Information Clearinghouse, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and any other national and state resources, may help the child-placing agency to know whether the surrendered infant is a missing child.[xv]

Safe haven laws aim at preserving the anonymity of parents surrendering newborns.  Parents who leave newborn infants in the custody of a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic at a fire station or emergency medical services station, or surrender them to the emergency room of a hospital have the right to preserve their anonymity if they express intent not to take back the child.  However, their identity can be traced if the entity accepting custody suspects that the newborn is a victim of child abuse or neglect.[xvi]

Upon request of anonymity made by the mother, the hospital authorities or registrar shall complete the infant’s birth certificate without naming the mother.[xvii]
Except when there is actual or suspected child abuse or neglect, the licensed child-placing agency shall not attempt to pursue, search for, or notify that parent.[xviii]

Parents may reclaim their infant abandoned according to the safe haven laws any time before the court enters a judgment terminating the parental rights.  In order to reclaim the abandoned infant, the parent must make a claim to the entity having physical custody or legal custody of the infant or to the circuit court before which proceedings relating to the newborn infant are pending.[xix]

Parents may claim parental rights of the surrendered infant after surrendering the newborn infant according to the safe haven laws.  Claim of parental rights must be made to the entity having legal custody of the surrendered infant or to the circuit court before which proceedings involving the surrendered infant are pending. A claim of parental rights of the surrendered infant may not be made after the judgment to terminate parental rights is entered. [xx]  However, birth parents may file motion against the judgment if the parent proves before the court that he/she was unable to make a timely claim of the parental rights on account of receiving false information.[xxi]

If parents make a claim of their parental rights before the judgment regarding the termination of parental rights is entered, the circuit court may hold the action for termination pending subsequent adoption in abeyance for a period not exceeding 60 days.[xxii]   The court may order scientific testing to determine maternity or paternity at the expense of the parent claiming parental rights.  The court shall also appoint a guardian ad litem for the surrendered infant and order investigation, home evaluation, and psychological evaluation necessary to determine what is in the best interest of the surrendered infant.  Parental rights may not be terminated by the court on the sole ground of abandonment of a child at a safe haven location.  After completing the investigation the court shall enter a judgment with written findings of fact and conclusions of law.[xxiii]
Within 7 business days of recording the judgment, the clerk of the court shall mail a copy of the judgment to the department, the petitioner, and the persons whose consent were required, if known. The clerk shall also execute a certificate of each mailing.[xxiv]

A judgment terminating parental rights pending adoption and any later judgment of adoption of that minor is voidable if the birth parent files a motion before the court that entered the judgment, and the court finds that a person knowingly gave false information that prevented the birth parent from timely making known his/her desire to assume parental responsibilities towards the minor or exercise his/her parental rights.  However, the motion must be filed within one year of the judgment terminating parental rights.[xxv]

Within 30 days of filing the motion, the court shall conduct a preliminary hearing to determine if any contact is to be maintained between the birth parent and child pending resolution of the motion.  Such contact may be allowed only if it is requested by a parent who has appeared at the hearing and the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child.  The court decides the extent of contact that must be maintained.  If the court orders contact between a birth parent and child, the order must be issued in writing as expeditiously as possible and must state with specificity any provisions regarding contact with persons other than those with whom the child resides. [xxvi]
During the preliminary hearing, upon any party’s motion or upon its own motion, the court may order scientific testing to determine the paternity or maternity of the minor if the person seeking to set aside the judgment is alleging to be the child’s birth parent but has not previously been determined by legal proceedings or scientific testing to be the birth parent.  After filing the test results establishing that person’s maternity or paternity, the court may order visitation as it deems appropriate and in the best interest of the child.[xxvii]  The court shall hold a final hearing on the motion within 45 days of the preliminary hearing to set aside the judgment and shall enter its written order as soon as possible. [xxviii]
Parents who abandon their new born infant according to Fla. Stat. § 383.50 are presumed to have consented to the termination of their parental rights with respect to the surrendered infant.[xxix]  Their express consent is not required for the termination of parental rights.  A petition for termination of parental rights must be filed by the child-placing agency only after the expiry of 30 days from the date of surrendering the newborn.[xxx]

[i] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(3)

[ii] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(3)(a)

[iii] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(3)(b)

[iv] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(8)

[v] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(7)

[vi] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(7)

[vii] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(8)

[viii] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(8)

[ix] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(8)

[x] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(3)

[xi] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(4)

[xii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(1)

[xiii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(2)

[xiv] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(2)

[xv] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(3)

[xvi] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(5)

[xvii] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(5)

[xviii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(4)

[xix] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(6)

[xx] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(6)

[xxi] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(9)(a)

[xxii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(7)

[xxiii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(7)

[xxiv] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(8)

[xxv] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(9)(a)

[xxvi] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(9)(b)

[xxvii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(9)(c)

[xxviii] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(9)(d)

[xxix] Fla. Stat. § 383.50(2)

[xxx] Fla. Stat. § 63.0423(5)