Delaware Safe Haven Laws

Abandonment of newborns in unsafe places and resulting tragedies led to the enactment of Safe Arms for Babies Law in the state of Delaware.  The Delaware general assembly found that the abandonment of newborns in unsafe places is an irresponsible act of the parent leaving the innocent newborn exposed to the risk of harm from other individuals or animals.  Consequently, Safe Arm for Babies Law was framed as a measure to prevent unnecessary risk of harm to abandoned babies. 

A Delaware hospital is authorized to accept temporary protective physical custody of a newborn not older than 14 days from any person voluntarily surrendering the newborn to an employee or volunteer of any Delaware hospital emergency department.[i]  However, the baby should be alive and unharmed while surrendering it to the hospital employee.[ii]

After accepting temporary emergency protective custody of the newborn, hospital authorities shall:

  • immediately notify the Division of Family Services and the State Police.  On notification, the Division of Family Services shall obtain ex parte custody and physically appear at the hospital within four hours of notification.[iii]  However, if there are other demanding situations to be handled, the Division may take more than four hours to reach the hospital.  Immediately after receiving notification from the hospital, the State Police shall submit an enquiry to the Delaware Missing Children Information Clearinghouse.[iv]
  • keep the identity of the person surrendering the newborn confidential.[v]
  • make reasonable efforts to collect information relating to the medical background of the surrendered infant and its family.  If the person surrendering the newborn is not ready to provide any medical information while surrendering the baby, he may be provided with a postage paid medical history information questionnaire that can be answered by the person and posted on a future date.  However, hospital authorities cannot compel the person to provide medical or any other identifying information.[vi]
  • attempt to provide the person surrendering the newborn, information regarding the Safe Arms Program. [vii]
  • attempt to provide the person surrendering the newborn information about adoption and counseling services.  They shall also inform the person that confidential adoption services are available and try to explain to them the benefits of engaging in a regular, voluntary adoption process. [viii]
  • attempt to provide the person brochures containing the telephone numbers of public or private agencies that provide counseling or adoption services.[ix]
  • attempt to provide the person surrendering the newborn,  an identification bracelet number of the baby.  The bracelet number shall serve as a link between the person and the newborn, and may be helpful to reunite with the child.  However, a person possessing the bracelet identification number is not permitted to take custody of the child on demand.[x]

After taking custody of the abandoned child from the hospital, the Division of Family Services shall notify the community by publishing a notice in a newspaper of state wide circulation stating that a baby has been abandoned and taken into temporary emergency protective custody by the Division.  The Notice must be published at least three times over a three week period starting from the date of surrender of the newborn. However, the Division may stop publishing notice if it has relinquished custody of the child.  Details to be included in the notice are: the baby’s place, date, and time of surrender; sex; approximate age; race; identification marks; and all other information which would be helpful in the baby’s identification.[xi]  The notice must also include a statement stating that the baby’s abandonment constitutes the surrendering person’s: a) irrevocable consent to the termination of all parental rights of the person on the ground of abandonment;[xii] and b) irrevocable waiver of any right of notice or opportunity to participate in any termination of parental right proceeding relating to the abandoned child.  However, the right of notice or opportunity to participate in termination of parental rights proceeding is not waived if the person expresses an intention to exercise parental rights and responsibilities within 30 days of surrendering the child.[xiii]

The Division of Family Services should preserve anonymity of the surrendering person if he/she expressed a desire to remain anonymous while surrendering the newborn.  In such cases the Division shall not initiate or conduct any investigations to find out the identity of the person.  However, the Division may conduct investigation if there is a good cause to believe that the child was subject to neglect or child abuse.[xiv]

The bracelet identification number provided to the person surrendering the infant serves as a link between the person and the child.  The identification number would be helpful in cases where the person wishes to reunite with the child.  Possession of the identification number creates a presumption that the person has a standing to participate in an action for the custody of the child.  However, this is possible only if the parental rights are not terminated at the time of the action.  Possession of the identification number does not create a presumption of maternity, paternity, or custody.[xv]

Abandonment of a baby shall be final 30 days after such abandonment.  The parental rights of the person surrendering the baby shall be irrevocably terminated then onwards unless the person expresses a desire to exercise their parental rights and responsibilities within 30 days of such abandonment.[xvi]

Once a baby is surrendered to the hospital, it will not be returned until the Division of Family Services and Family Court determines that the person reclaiming the baby can take care of the baby safely.

 

Any person voluntarily surrendering a newborn according to the Safe Arms for Babies Law is not required to provide any information relating to his/her identity. Hospital authorities accepting custody of the infant shall not compel the person to provide any identification information.  However, if the hospital employees come across any identifying information about the person surrendering the newborn, such information shall be kept confidential.[xviii]

In prosecution cases involving the offense set forth in 11 Del. C. § 1101 and 11 Del. C. § 1102, the accused person may raise the defense of abandoning the baby under the Safe Arms for Babies Law if the baby was not more than 14 days old while surrendering it and the person surrendered the baby according to the Safe Arms for Babies Law.[xix]

Any hospital, hospital employees, or hospital volunteers accepting emergency custody of an abandoned child according to the safe haven laws shall be exempt from any civil or administrative liability for any acts of commission or omission while taking and maintaining emergency custody of the infant.  However, they shall be liable for negligent and intentional acts.[xx]  Hospital authorities are also exempt from any civil or criminal liability, and shall not be required to participate in any judicial proceedings for any acts performed in good faith while exercising emergency protective custody of the abandoned infant.[xxi]

The State shall reimburse eligible necessary medical cost incurred by the hospital in taking custody of an abandoned child.  The fee shall be reimbursed under the Medicaid Fee for Service Program.[xxii]

[i] 16 Del. C. § 907A(a),(b)

[ii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(b)

[iii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(g)

[iv] 16 Del. C. § 907A(g)

[v] 16 Del. C. § 907A(c)

[vi] 16 Del. C. § 907A(c)

[vii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(d)

[viii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(d)

[ix] 16 Del. C. § 907A(d)

[x] 16 Del. C. § 907A(e)

[xi] 16 Del. C. § 907A(h)

[xii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(h)(1)

[xiii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(h)(2)

[xiv] 16 Del. C. § 907A(i)

[xv] 16 Del. C. § 907A(f)

[xvi] 13 Del. C. § 1103

[xviii] 16 Del. C. § 907A(c)

[xix] 11 Del. C. § 1102A

[xx] 16 Del. C. § 908(b)

[xxi] 16 Del. C. § 908(a)

[xxii] 16 Del. C. § 908(b)


Inside Delaware Safe Haven Laws