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South Carolina Safe Haven Laws

A safe haven in the State of South Carolina must accept temporary physical custody of an infant not older than 30 days without a court order, if the infant is voluntarily left at the safe haven by a person who does not express intent to return for the infant.[i]  According to S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(J), “safe haven” means a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, a law enforcement agency, a fire station, an emergency medical services station, or any staffed house of worship during hours when the facility is staffed.  The person surrendering the infant must leave the infant in the physical custody of a staff member or employee of the safe haven. [ii]

Any facility other than a hospital or hospital outpatient facility receiving an infant must transport the infant to the nearest hospital within six hours of receiving the infant.  If the safe haven is a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, it shall perform acts necessary to protect the physical health or safety of the infant.  The person surrendering the infant is not required to disclose any identifying information.[iii]

The safe haven must inform the person leaving the infant legal consequences of surrendering the infant at a safe haven.[iv] The safe haven must also make an attempt to access any identifying or medical information of the infant from the person surrendering the infant.  Such information may be collected on a form provided by the Department of Social Services.  If the person does not wish to disclose the information to a safe haven, he/she may be provided a copy of the form and a prepaid envelope for mailing the form to the Department of Social Services.  The safe haven may also ask the person to identify the infant’s parent/parents.[v]

Any identifying information received by the safe haven must be kept confidential.  The information may be transferred to the Department.  The Department shall maintain confidentiality of the information.  However, if a court determines that the immunity provisions relating to the safe abandonment of infants do not apply, the safe haven may disclose the information as permitted by confidentiality protections applicable to records of the safe haven. [vi]

The hospital or hospital outpatient facility taking possession of the infant shall notify the Department that an infant has been taken into temporary protective custody not later than the close of the first business day after accepting the infant.  The Department has legal custody of the infant immediately upon receipt of the notice. The Department shall assume physical control of the infant as soon as practicable.  After receiving notice that the infant is ready for discharge from the hospital or hospital outpatient facility, the Department may not go beyond 24 hours in assuming physical control of the infant.  Assumption of custody by the Department does not constitute emergency protective custody.

The Department is not required to initiate a child protective services investigation solely because an infant comes into its custody.[vii]
Immediately after receiving notice from a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, the Department shall contact the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to determine if the abandoned infant is a missing infant.  The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division shall treat the request as ongoing for a period of 30 days.  It shall contact the Department if a missing infant report is received that might relate to the infant.[viii]

Within 48 hours of accepting legal custody of an infant, the Department shall publish notice, in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the infant was initially surrendered.  It shall also send a news release to broadcast and print media in the area.  The notice and the news release must give a description of the infant, and state the circumstances under which the infant was left at the safe haven. The   date, time, and place of the permanency planning hearing must be included in the notice.  The notice and the news release must also contain the information that any person wishing to assert parental rights in regard to the infant must do so at the hearing.  If the surrendering person identified anyone as the infant’s parent, the notice must be sent by certified mail at least two weeks prior to the hearing to the last known address of the person identified as a parent. [ix]

Within 48 hours after obtaining legal custody of the infant, the department shall file a petition alleging that: a) the infant has been abandoned; b) the court must suspend efforts to preserve or reunify the family; c) keeping the infant in the home of the parent or parents would be contrary to the welfare of the infant; and d) termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the infant.[x]

Permanency Planning Hearing on the petition must be held not later than 60 days after the Department takes legal custody of the infant.  However, the hearing shall be made only after the expiry of 30 days starting from the date of accepting custody.    If the court approves the permanent plan of termination of parental rights, the order must also provide that a petition for termination of parental rights on the grounds of abandonment must be filed within ten days after receipt of the order by the Department.[xi]

The act of surrendering an infant according to the safe haven laws is conclusive evidence that the infant has been abused or neglected for purposes of Department of Social Services’ jurisdiction and for evidentiary purposes in any judicial proceeding in which abuse or neglect of an infant is an issue.  The abandonment is also conclusive evidence that the requirements for termination of parental rights have been satisfied relating to any parent who left the infant. [xii]

A parent or a parent’s agent who leaves an infant not more than 30 days old at a safe haven must not be prosecuted for any criminal offense if the person leaves the infant in the physical custody of a staff member or an employee of the safe haven in accordance with the safe haven laws.  However, the surrendering person may not claim immunity if the infant is in a harmed condition at the time of relinquishment. [xiii]
A safe haven and its agents are immune from civil or criminal liability for doing acts in compliance with the provisions of the safe haven laws.[xiv]

The Department is responsible to propagate provisions regarding the safe abandonment of infants.  It shall take appropriate measures to achieve public awareness of the provisions either alone or in collaboration with any other public entity.[xv]  The Department shall also submit an annual report to the General Assembly containing data on infants taken into the custody by the Department.  The report must not contain any identifying information about abandoned infants.[xvi]

[i] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(A)

[ii] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(A)

[iii] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(A)

[iv] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(B)(1)

[v] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(B)(2)

[vi] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(B)(3)

[vii] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(C)

[viii] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(D)

[ix] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(E)(1)

[x] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(E)(2)

[xi] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(E)(2)

[xii] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(F)

[xiii] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(G)

[xiv] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(H)

[xv] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(I)

[xvi] S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-40(K)

Inside South Carolina Safe Haven Laws