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Louisiana Safe Haven Laws

Safe Haven laws in Louisiana provide a mechanism whereby any parent may relinquish the care of an infant to the state.  Parents may relinquish their infants in safe hands preserving their anonymity, and without fear of prosecution.[i]

In Louisiana, Safe Haven laws permit parents to leave their infant not more than 30 days old and not subject to any child abuse or neglect, in the care of any employee of a designated emergency care facility.  According to La. Ch.C. Art. 1150(2), “designated emergency care facility” means any hospital licensed in the state of Louisiana, any public health unit, any emergency medical service provider, any medical clinic, any fire station, any police station, any pregnancy crisis center, or any child advocacy center.  In cases where the parent is unable to travel to such a facility, he/she has the option to call “911”.  On making a call, a law enforcement officer or emergency medical service provider shall immediately be dispatched.  Such officers shall meet the parent and transport the child to a hospital.[ii]

Every designated emergency care facility shall appoint as its representative one or more employees on duty during regular business hours.  The person appointed as the representative shall be a person aware of the requirements of the Safe Haven laws.  Additionally, each facility shall also designate a representative who can be reached by emergency telephone service.[iii]  If the infant is relinquished to a designated emergency care facility other than a hospital, the staff of the facility shall immediately transfer the infant to a hospital. [iv]  After accepting custody of the infant, the representative shall immediately notify the Louisiana Department of Social Services. [v]

The Department shall create a card and supply it to designated emergency care facilities.  Such cards shall be provided to the individual relinquishing an infant into the care of a designated emergency care facility. The card shall contain a toll free number of the Department.  A section of the card shall also include a space for the designated emergency care facility to provide their address and contact information.  In cases where the relinquishing parent contacts the Department/designated emergency care facility, the relinquishing parent shall be asked to provide information about any prenatal care, and the name of the other parent.  However, the parent cannot be compelled to provide such information.[vi]
The representative shall provide to the parent written information regarding:

a)     method to contact the Department if the parent has any queries regarding the relinquishment or the voluntarily provided medical information;

b)     counseling services available;

c)     right of the parent to file a claim and be heard in proceedings relating to the termination of parental rights; and

d)     right of the parent to use the services of the voluntary registry.[vii]

The representative and other staff of the designated emergency facility shall be immune from civil and criminal liability in any legal action arising from the examination, testing, care, and treatment of the infant.  However, the immunity does not apply in cases where there is willful or intentional misconduct or gross negligence in carrying out the responsibilities. [viii]

Relinquishment of an infant in accordance with the State Safe Haven laws shall not be considered as a criminal act of neglect, abandonment, cruelty, or a crime against the child.[ix]

Relinquishing a newborn infant according to the Safe Haven laws constitutes an implied parental consent for examining and testing the infant by hospital staff and also for the purposes of providing medical treatment and care to the infant. [x]  On admitting an infant to the hospital, a physician shall conduct a comprehensive medical examination and tests to determine: a) if the infant suffers from HIV or hepatitis (in cases of suspicion); b) if the infant suffered foetal exposure to alcohol or drugs; c) if the infant appears to have been abused or neglected; d) the infant’s estimated date of birth, if not previously known. [xi]  Medical personnel and hospital staff shall be immune from civil and criminal liability in any legal action arising from the hospital’s examination, testing, care, and treatment of the infant.  However, they shall be liable for willful or intentional misconduct or negligence. [xii]
The hospital shall forward the infant’s birth information to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, for issuing a birth certificate.  However, they may not forward the infant’s birth information if the infant’s birth certificate has already been issued.  If there is no information regarding the place of birth of the infant, the infant shall be presumed to have been born in Louisiana. [xiii]

Upon receiving notification regarding relinquishment of an infant, the Department shall request an oral instanter order of custody from the court.  The Department shall take physical custody of the infant within 12 hours of receiving notice that the infant is ready to be discharged from the hospital.  The Department shall exercise due diligence in attempting to identify and locate the non-relinquishing parent of the infant.  They shall also conduct a missing children search. [xiv]

The court shall hold a hearing within three days after the Department takes custody of the infant.  The court shall order the appointment of counsel for the child and may also appoint a CASA volunteer for the child.  Hearsay evidence is permissible at the hearing.  Notice of the proceeding may not be send to the parent or caretaker of the infant.[xv]  At the hearing, the Department has to prove that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the infant has been relinquished to the state for adoption; and there is no evidence showing that the child was subject to any child abuse or neglect before relinquishment. [xvi]  If the court is satisfied with the evidence provided by the Department, and finds that removal of the child is necessary in order to safeguard its welfare, it shall order continued custody of the infant in the Department before entering a final order declaring parental rights terminated and entering a finding that the Department has made reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removal and that reunification efforts are not required. [xvii]  Alternatively, if the court determines that the infant was abused or neglected prior to its relinquishment; the court shall direct that a child in need of care investigation be commenced by the Department.[xviii]

The court may terminate parental rights of the unidentified non-relinquishing parent if the non-relinquishing parent cannot be identified, and the court is satisfied that the Department has made a diligent effort in identifying the parent.  To prove that a diligent but unsuccessful effort was made, the Department shall introduce: a) a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, if one has been issued; and b) a certificate indicating the name and address of any person listed with the putative father registry or a certificate that no registration or listing has occurred concerning this child. [xix]

If a non-relinquishing parent of the infant is identified, notice of the relinquishment shall be given to the parent before entering an order terminating parental rights.  The notice shall also include an explanation of the rights of the non-relinquishing parent.  It shall inform the parent that it can adopt its child by filing a motion of opposition within 15 days after receiving the notice. [xx]

On filing a timely motion, the court will hold a hearing within 20 days of filing the motion and determine if the parental rights of the non-relinquishing parent is established or forfeited.  In order to establish parental right to oppose the adoption, the non-relinquishing parent must acknowledge that he/she is the parent of the child or be found to be the parent by court order as a result of blood or tissue tests.  After that, the parent must also demonstrate that he/she is a fit parent and willing and able to assume the legal and physical custody of the child.   If the parent fails to file a timely motion of opposition, or if, after a hearing on a motion timely filed, the court finds that the parent failed to establish the parental right, the court will order the termination of parental rights.  After that the child may be subject to adoption. [xxi]

If a non-relinquishing parent is identified but the parent’s contact information is not known, the court shall appoint a curator, and notice of the relinquishment shall be served upon him. The curator shall make diligent efforts to locate the parent.  Within 30 days after the appointment, the curator shall submit to the court a written report indicating the efforts made to locate the parent. If the non-relinquishing parent has not been located, the court shall terminate the parental rights of that parent. [xxii]

A relinquishing parent may reclaim the newborn within thirty days after the relinquishment.  To reclaim the parental rights, the parent has to file motion indicating his intention to retain the child in the court in the parish in which the infant was relinquished.  The court shall hold a hearing within 20 days of filing the petition. The court shall also issue an order for immediate and expedited blood or tissue testing; and order the Department to immediately conduct a home study of any parent seeking to reclaim or establish his rights and promptly report to the court concerning its findings. [xxiii]  If the court finds that the parent has established his parental rights, the court shall declare that no adoption may be granted without his consent.  Additionally, the court may also order the parent to reimburse the Department with all the costs incurred in connection with care of the child. [xxiv]  If the court finds that the parent has failed to establish his parental rights, it shall declare that his rights are terminated. [xxv]

If a relinquishing parent does not reclaim the child, or a non-relinquishing parent does not file a timely motion of opposition the court may render a judgment terminating the parental rights.  The judgment will be based upon the motion filed by the Department within 45 days after the relinquishment.  After terminating the parental rights, the court shall certify the child for adoption and continue custody in the Department.  An action for annulment of the judgment may not be brought 90 days after the judgment terminating parental rights or decree of adoption, whichever is earlier. [xxvi]

If a timely reclaim of parental rights is made, the  Department shall within thirty days of the continued custody hearing, develop and file with the court a permanency case plan.  If the parent does not reclaim the parental rights, the  Department shall develop and file with the court a permanency case plan within 30 days of a judgment denying the claim and terminating parental rights.   The attorney appointed to represent the infant at the Safe Haven continued custody hearing shall continue to represent the child in all review hearings until the child is permanently placed. [xxvii]

In accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, the  Department shall propagate the rules and regulations relating to the safe relinquishment of newborns.  It shall also: a) issue notice informing the public of the existence of designated emergency care facilities and the use of Safe Havens; b) inform the public of the establishment of a toll-free number to direct individuals to designated emergency care facilities; c) provide written information and training materials to the representatives of emergency medical care facilities instructing them the procedure relating to receiving relinquished children and interviewing relinquishing parents; d) provide procedures and forms informing a relinquishing parent about its rights; e) provide procedures for a physician’s use in conducting the medical evaluation of the child in accordance with the Safe Haven laws.[xxviii]

[i] La. CHC Art. 1149

[ii] La. CHC Art. 1151(A)

[iii] La. CHC Art. 1152(A)

[iv] La. CHC Art. 1152(E)

[v] La. CHC Art. 1152(F)

[vi] La. CHC Art. 1152(C)

[vii] La. CHC Art. 1152(D)

[viii] La. CHC Art. 1152(G)

[ix] La. CHC Art. 1152(B)

[x] La. CHC Art. 1153(A)

[xi] La. CHC Art. 1153(B)

[xii] La. CHC Art. 1153(D)

[xiii] La. CHC Art. 1153(C)

[xiv] La. CHC Art. 1154(A)

[xv] La. CHC Art. 1154(B)

[xvi] La. CHC Art. 1154(C)

[xvii] La. CHC Art. 1154(D)

[xviii] La. CHC Art. 1154(E)

[xix] La. CHC Art. 1155

[xx] La. CHC Art. 1155

[xxi] La. CHC Art. 1155

[xxii] La. CHC Art. 1155

[xxiii] La. CHC Art. 1155

[xxiv] La. CHC Art. 1157

[xxv] La. CHC Art. 1157

[xxvi] La. CHC Art. 1158

[xxvii] La. CHC Art. 1159

[xxviii] La. CHC Art. 1160

Inside Louisiana Safe Haven Laws