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Texas Safe Haven Laws

Texas is the first state in the United States to enact safe haven laws.  Texas safe haven laws were enacted in the year 1999.  In Texas, a designated emergency infant care provider shall take possession of a child who appears to be not more than 60 days old without a court order if the child is voluntarily delivered to the provider by the child’s parent with intent not to return for the child.[i]  According to Tex. Fam. Code § 262.301(1) “Designated emergency infant care provider” means an emergency medical services provider, a hospital or a child-placing agency.  The section specifically states:

(1) “Designated emergency infant care provider” means:

(A) an emergency medical services provider;

(B) a hospital; or

(C) a child-placing agency licensed by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services under Chapter 42, Human Resources Code, that:

(i) agrees to act as a designated emergency infant care provider under this subchapter; and

(ii) has on staff a person who is licensed as a registered nurse under Chapter 301, Occupations Code, or who provides emergency medical services under Chapter 773, Health and Safety Code, and who will examine and provide emergency medical services to a child taken into possession by the agency under this subchapter.

An emergency medical services provider means a person who uses or maintains emergency medical services vehicles, medical equipment, and emergency medical services personnel to provide emergency medical services.[ii]

Each designated emergency infant care provider must post a notice stating that the provider is a designated emergency infant care provider location and will accept possession of a child in accordance with the safe haven laws.  The notice must be posted in a conspicuous location.[iii]

A designated emergency infant care provider taking possession of the child does not have a duty to detain or follow the parent surrendering the newborn.  However, the provider may detain or pursue the parent if the child is a victim of child abuse or neglect.  The parent has the right to remain anonymous and the provider does not have any legal duty to ascertain the parent’s identity.  However, the parent may be given a form for voluntary disclosure of the child’s medical facts and history.[iv]

Any designated emergency infant care provider who takes possession of a child shall perform acts necessary to protect the physical health or safety of the child.[v]  Any cost incurred by the provider in assuming care, control and custody of the child shall be reimbursed by the Department.[vi]  The provider is not liable for damages related to the provider’s taking possession of, examining, or treating the child.  However, the provider may become liable if the claim is based on the provider’s negligent acts.[vii]

The provider shall notify the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services that it has taken possession of a child not later than the close of the first business day after the date on which the provider took possession of the child.  Upon receiving notice, the Department shall immediately assume care, control, and custody of the child.[viii]  Such child shall be treated as a child taken into possession without a court order, and the Department shall take action as required by Section 262.105 (dealing with filing petition after taking possession of child in emergency) with regard to the child.[ix]

Immediately after assuming custody of the child, the Department shall report the child to appropriate state and local law enforcement agencies as a potential missing child.[x]  On receiving the report, the law enforcement agency shall commence an investigation to determine if the child is reported as missing.[xi]  The Department is not required to conduct a search for the relatives of the child.[xii]

Any identifying information, documentation, or other records regarding a person who voluntarily delivers a child to a designated emergency infant care provider shall be kept confidential and not subject to release to any individual or entity except as provided by § 262.308(b) (dealing with confidentiality of documents filed with a court.) [xiii]

Any person taking possession of a child without a court order shall without unnecessary delay:[xiv]

a) file a suit affecting the parent-child relationship;

b) request the court to appoint an attorney ad litem for the child; and

c) request an initial hearing to be held by no later than the first working day after the date the child is taken into possession.
If the Department files a suit seeking termination of the parent-child relationship, the suit shall be filed within 45 days of assuming care, control, and custody of the child.[xv]

Any pleading or other document filed with a court with regard to the abandoned child is confidential and is not public information.  However, such information may be released to a party in a suit regarding the child, the party’s attorney, or an attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem appointed in the suit. [xvi]  Hearing on matters concerning the child shall be kept closed to the public unless the court finds that the interests of the child or the public would be better served by opening the hearing to the public. [xvii]
Any person who knowingly discloses, receives, uses, or permits the use of information derived from such confidential records or files; or knowingly discloses identifying information concerning a person who voluntarily delivers a child to a designated emergency infant care provider commits an offense of Class B misdemeanor.[xviii]

If a person voluntarily delivered a child to a designated emergency infant care provider, such act shall be considered as an exception to the application of the law prohibiting abandonment or endangerment of a child.[xix]

[i] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.302(a)

[ii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.301(2), Tex. Health & Safety Code § 773.003(11)

[iii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.306

[iv] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.302(b)

[v] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.302(c)

[vi] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.307

[vii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.302(c)

[viii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.303

[ix] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.304

[x] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.305(a)

[xi] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.305(b)

[xii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.309

[xiii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.308(a)

[xiv] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.105(a)

[xv] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.105(b)

[xvi] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.308(b)

[xvii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.308(c)

[xviii] Tex. Fam. Code § 262.308(d)

[xix] Tex. Fam. Code § 22.041

Inside Texas Safe Haven Laws