Rhode Island Safe Haven Laws


In Rhode Island, the Safe Haven for Infants Act governs provisions relating to the safe abandonment of newborns.[i]  Any hospital, open medical emergency facility, fire station, or police station operating in the state of Rhode Island shall take temporary physical custody of an infant who appears to be not older than 30 days without a court order if the infant is voluntarily left with a staff member of such location by any person with an intent not to return for the child.  Additionally, the circumstances involving the relinquishment must give rise to a reasonable belief that the person does not intend to return for the infant.[ii]

The person surrendering the infant shall not be required to disclose any identifying information about the infant, the infant’s parents, and other family members of the infant.  Similarly, he/she shall not be compelled to disclose the medical history of the infant, infant’s parents, or other family members.  If the person surrendering the infant is not the infant’s parent, he/she may not be required to disclose any identifying or medical information about him/her.  However, the person surrendering the infant may disclose information voluntarily.[iii]

Any information received from the person surrendering the infant shall be kept confidential.  Such information shall not be disclosed by the safe surrender site accepting custody to any other person/entity other than the director of the Department Of Children, Youth and Families or his or her designee.[iv]

However, if a court of competent jurisdiction determines that the immunity provisions of § 23-13.1-4 (dealing with immunity for the act of abandoning newborn infant) do not apply, the hospital or other facility accepting custody of the infant must disclose identifying information about the infant, infant’s parents, or other family members to the Department of Attorney General upon an order of the court. The safe surrender site may disclose information necessary for the medical care of the infant to the medical care providers.[v]

Any safe surrender site accepting custody of the infant shall offer the person leaving the infant written information regarding the legal consequences of leaving the infant with the hospital or other facility designated by the Act.  The Department of Children, Youth and Families is responsible for preparing such information and providing it free of cost to hospitals and other facilities accepting custody of the infant. [vi]  The Department of Children, Youth and Families is also responsible for notifying law enforcement authorities of any criminal wrongdoing.[vii]

Safe surrender sites accepting custody of the newborn and its employees shall be immune from any civil or criminal liability for acts done in accordance with the Act.  However, they are not immune from liability for negligent acts.  They are also immune from any civil or criminal liability that otherwise might result from the failure to make a report under the provisions of chapter 11 of title 40 (dealing with abused and neglected child) if the entity or person acted in good faith in complying with the Act. [viii]

Any hospital, medical facility or licensed physician, and its employees, independent contractors and agents, accepting custody of an abandoned infant are authorized to provide to an infant any medical care and treatment that the attending physician believes necessary for the infant’s well being.  They can also perform tests for the human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis, if necessary.[ix]

An infant’s parent or a person acting on behalf of the parent is immune from prosecution for the act of abandonment, if: a) the abandoned infant is not older than 30 days; b) the infant was left in the physical custody of an employee of an authorized safe surrender site; and c) medical examination of the infant determines that the infant is in an unharmed condition and is not a victim of child abuse or neglect.[x]

Upon accepting physical custody of an infant, the entity/person accepting custody shall immediately notify the director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, or his/her designee.  The director is responsible for establishing a procedure for notification. On receiving the notice, the Department shall immediately respond to the entity making the notification and place the infant in the temporary protective custody of the Department and make arrangements for the infant’s medical examination.  After that, the Department shall file an emergency petition for the removal of the infant from the care and custody of the parents.[xi]

The Department shall initiate proceedings for the termination of parental rights   after the expiry of 90 days from the date of receiving temporary custody of the infant if no person has asserted a claim to be the parent of the infant within the 90 day period.  Leaving an infant at a hospital or other designated facility and the failure of a person to assert a claim to be the parent of the infant within 90 days of the infant being placed in the temporary custody of the Department shall constitute prima facie evidence of permanent abandonment of the infant. [xii]

The director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families or his/her designee shall be responsible for establishing a “Safe Haven for Infants Awareness Program.”  The program shall include circulating literature relating to the rights and immunity guaranteed by the Act.  The director shall establish a toll free telephone information line, issue pamphlets and other literature, and secure print and other advertisements to propagate the provisions of the Act. [xiii]

[i] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-1

[ii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(a)

[iii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(b)

[iv] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(b)

[v] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(b)

[vi] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(b)

[vii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(c)

[viii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(e)

[ix] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-3(f)

[x] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-4

[xi] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-5(a)

[xii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-5(b)

[xiii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.1-6