Iowa Safe Haven Laws

The Newborn Safe Haven Act of Iowa governs safe abandonment of newborns.  According to the Act, any parent or any other person authorized by the parent may voluntarily release custody of an infant not more than fourteen days old to any institutional health facility with intent not to take back the child.  According to Iowa Code § 233.1(2)(a) the term “Institutional health facility” means:

a hospital as defined in section 135B.1.  It shall also include a facility providing medical or health services that is open twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week and is a hospital emergency room or a health care facility as defined in section 135C.1.

If the physical custody of the newborn is not relinquished to any person at the institutional health facility, the person relinquishing the infant may perform necessary acts to ensure that the institutional health facility is aware that a newborn has been abandoned.  Parent may either use a 911 service or make a telephone contact with the institutional health facility to make sure that the abandoned infant has been noticed by the facility.[i]
The individual on duty at the institutional health facility may make reasonable efforts to protect the safety and health of the child. [ii]   All costs incurred by the facility in providing care to the infant shall be reimbursed by the state by utilizing the funds from the Department of Human Services. [iii]   They may also request the person relinquishing custody to provide names of the infant’s parents, and the medical history of the infant and the infant’s parent/parents.  However, it is not mandatory that the person relinquishing custody must disclose the parent’s name and medical history.

Institutional health facilities and individuals on duty at the institutional health facility accepting physical custody of the newborn infant are immune from any civil or criminal liability for all acts/omissions done in good faith while accepting and maintaining the child in their custody. [iv]

If the parent’s name of the abandoned infant is unknown to the institutional health facility, the individual on duty at the facility or other person designated by the facility shall submit the certificate of birth report as required pursuant to section 144.14(dealing with reporting of foundlings). If the parent’s name is disclosed to the institutional health facility, the facility shall submit the certificate of birth report as required pursuant to section 144.13 (dealing with filing of birth certificates).  However, the Department of Public Health shall not file the certificate of birth with the county of birth and shall otherwise maintain the confidentiality of the birth certificate in accordance with section 144.43 (dealing with exceptions to vital records closed to inspection.) [v]

Soon after the individual on duty at the facility assumes physical custody of a newborn infant, he/she shall notify the Department Of Human Services.  After that, the Department shall take actions necessary to assume care, control, and custody of the newborn infant. The department shall immediately notify the juvenile court and the county attorney of the department’s action, and the circumstances surrounding the action.  It shall request an ex parte order from the juvenile court ordering the department to take custody of the newborn infant.  Upon receiving the order, the department shall take custody of the newborn infant.  Within 24 hours of taking custody of the newborn infant, the department shall notify the juvenile court and the county attorney in writing of the department’s action and the circumstances surrounding the action.[vi]

On receiving notification from the department, the county attorney shall file: a) a petition alleging the newborn infant to be a child in need of assistance; and b) a petition for termination of parental rights with respect to the newborn infant.  Notice of filing such a petition shall be given to any known parent and shall be served upon any putative father registered with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics. [vii]  Hearing on a child in need of assistance petition shall be held at the earliest practicable time; and a hearing on a termination of parental rights petition shall be held within 30 days of relinquishing the physical custody of the newborn child to a facility. [viii]  However, the juvenile court may continue the hearing beyond the thirty days period if there is a good cause to extend the hearing.  A notice by publication shall be provided before holding a termination of parental rights hearing,.[ix]  An individual on duty at an institutional health facility who initially assumes custody of a newborn infant shall be provided notice of any hearing held concerning the newborn infant at the same time notice is provided to other parties to the hearing and the individual may provide testimony at the hearing. [x]

Any person authorized by the infant’s parent to relinquish physical custody of the newborn infant is immune from criminal prosecution for abandonment or neglect of the newborn infant; and civil liability for any reasonable acts or omissions made in good faith in assisting with the release.[xi]

Either parent of the abandoned newborn infant may intervene in the proceedings of the child in need of assistance or termination of parental rights and request that the juvenile court grant custody of the newborn infant to the parent.  The person making the request must show by clear and convincing evidence that the requester is the parent of the newborn infant.  The court shall issue an order granting custody of the newborn infant to the parent if the court finds that the requester is the newborn infant’s parent and that granting custody of the newborn infant to the parent is in the newborn infant’s best interest.  In addition to such order, the court may order services for the newborn infant and the parent as are in the best interest of the newborn infant. [xii]

Any record that is developed, acquired, or held in connection with an individual’s good faith effort to voluntarily release a newborn infant and any identifying information concerning the individual shall be kept confidential. Such record shall not be inspected or the contents shall not be disclosed. [xiii]

However, the contents of such record may be inspected and the contents disclosed without court order to: the court and professional court staff, including juvenile court officers; the newborn infant and the newborn infant’s counsel; the newborn infant’s parent, guardian, custodian, and those persons’ counsel; the newborn infant’s court appointed special advocate and guardian ad litem; the county attorney and the county attorney’s assistants; an agency, association, facility, or institution which has custody of the newborn infant, or is legally responsible for the care, treatment, or supervision of the newborn infant; the newborn infant’s foster parent or an individual providing preadoptive care to the newborn infant. [xiv]

In furtherance to a court order the records relating to the abandoned newborn infant may be inspected by and the contents may be disclosed to: a) a person conducting bona fide research for research purposes under whatever conditions the court may deem proper.  However, no personal identifying data shall be disclosed to such a person; and b) persons who have a direct interest in a proceeding or in the work of the court. [xv]

Any person who knowingly discloses, receives, or makes use or permits the use of information derived directly or indirectly from a record relating to an abandoned newborn infant or discloses identifying information concerning such individual, except as provided by the Act commits a serious misdemeanor. [xvi]

The Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Iowa Department Of Public Health and the Department of Justice, shall develop and distribute:

a)     educational materials, public information announcements, and other resources to develop awareness of the Newborn Safe Haven Act among adolescents, young parents, and others who might seek protections granted by the Act; [xvii]

b)     an information card or other publication which will be given by the institutional health facility to the parent who releases custody of a newborn infant.  The publication shall inform the parent of a parent’s rights available under the Act and explain the request for medical history and other information deemed pertinent by the departments; [xviii]

c)     signage used to identify the institutional health facilities at which physical custody of a newborn infant may be relinquished in accordance with the Act. [xix] 

[i] Iowa Code § 233.2(1)

[ii] Iowa Code § 233.2(2)(a)

[iii] Iowa Code § 233.2(2)(b)

[iv] Iowa Code § 233.2(2)(a)

[v] Iowa Code § 233.2(2)(c)

[vi] Iowa Code § 233.2(3)

[vii] Iowa Code § 233.2(4)(b)

[viii] Iowa Code § 233.2(4)(a)

[ix] Iowa Code § 233.2(4)(b)

[x] Iowa Code § 233.2(6)

[xi] Iowa Code § 233.3

[xii] Iowa Code § 233.4

[xiii] Iowa Code § 233.5(1)

[xiv] Iowa Code § 233.5(2)

[xv] Iowa Code § 233.5(3)

[xvi] Iowa Code § 233.5(4)

[xvii] Iowa Code § 233.6(2)

[xviii] Iowa Code § 233.6(1)

[xix] Iowa Code § 233.6(3)


Inside Iowa Safe Haven Laws