In Missouri, the Safe Place for Newborns Act of 2002 governs safe abandonment of newborns.[i] The Act aims to protect newborn children who are abandoned by their parents, from injury and death caused by unsafe abandonment. It also provides safe and secure alternatives to such abandonment.[ii]
A parent may voluntarily deliver the custody of their child not more than one year old to an employee, agent, or member of the staff of any hospital; firefighter or emergency medical technician on duty in a paid position or as a volunteer; or a law enforcement officer, without an express intent to return for the child. However, the child should not be a victim of sexual abuse or neglect prior to delivery. [iii] Any authorized person may accept custody of the child without a court order. [iv] If the delivery of the child is in a place other than a hospital, the child must be immediately transported to the nearest hospital. [v]
The hospital, its employees, agents and medical staff shall perform treatment necessary to protect the physical health or safety of the child. The hospital admitting the child shall notify the Division of Family Services and the local juvenile officer. [vi] On being notified, the local juvenile officer shall immediately begin protective custody proceedings and request the child be made a ward of the court during the child’s stay in the medical facility. After being discharged from the hospital, based on the protective custody order, the Division of Family Services shall take physical custody of the child. [vii]
A parent’s voluntary delivery of the child shall constitute the parent’s implied consent to voluntary relinquishment of such parent’s parental rights. [viii] In any proceedings involving the termination of parental rights, the juvenile officer shall make public notice that a child has been relinquished. The notice shall mention the sex of the child, and the date and location of such relinquishment.[ix] The juvenile officer shall also examine the putative father registry to determine whether previous attempts have been made to preserve parental rights to the child. If such attempts have been made, the juvenile officer shall make reasonable efforts to provide notice of the abandonment of the child to such putative father. [x]
If the non relinquishing parent of the abandoned child wishes to establish parental rights, he/she shall identify himself/herself to the court and disclose intentions regarding the child and initiate steps necessary to establish parentage within 30 days of the public notice or specific notice given by the juvenile officer.[xi] If the non relinquishing parent fails to initiate timely action, the parent may have all of his/her parental rights terminated. When the child’s non relinquishing parent makes inquiry about the abandoned child at the hospital, such facility shall refer the non relinquishing parent to the Division of Family Services and the juvenile court exercising jurisdiction over the child. [xii]
A parent shall not be prosecuted for child abandonment or endangering the welfare of a child or for actions related to the voluntary relinquishment of a child up to 5 days old. It shall be an affirmative defense to prosecution for child abandonment or endangering the welfare of a child that a parent who is a defendant voluntarily relinquished a child not more than a year old according to the Act.[xiii]
Any authorized entity accepting physical custody of a child in good faith shall be immune from civil, criminal, and administrative liability for accepting a child. However, they are not immune from any acts or omissions, including negligent or intentional acts or omissions, occurring after the acceptance of such child. [xiv]
The Division of Family Services shall make efforts to make the public aware of the protections and facilities offered by the Act. It shall provide information, and answer questions about the process established by the Safe Place for Newborns Act on the statewide, toll-free telephone number maintained pursuant to section 210.145 (dealing with protective custody of child). Additionally, it shall also use pamphlets, brochures, or other advertising media and deliver information about the process established by the Act. [xv]
[i] § 210.950(1) R.S.Mo.
[ii] § 210.950(1) R.S.Mo.
[iii] § 210.950(3) R.S.Mo.
[iv] § 210.950(4) R.S.Mo.
[v] § 210.950(4) R.S.Mo.
[vi] § 210.950(5) R.S.Mo.
[vii] § 210.950(5) R.S.Mo.
[viii] § 210.950(5) R.S.Mo.
[ix] § 210.950(6) R.S.Mo.
[x] § 210.950(6) R.S.Mo.
[xi] § 210.950(6), 210.950(7) R.S.Mo.
[xii] § 210.950(7) R.S.Mo.
[xiii] § 210.950(3) R.S.Mo.
[xiv] § 210.950(8) R.S.Mo.
[xv] § 210.950(9) R.S.Mo.