Safe Haven Laws: What to Know

Meeting with a client and creating a list of wants, needs, and goals for a project is a typical early step in the design-build construction process. Recently I had one of these meetings with a fire department that was planning the construction of two new stations. As we worked our way through the common items found in a station — day room size, number of bunk rooms, vehicle exhaust system options — the chief and assistant chief mentioned they wanted to install a baby box. The immediate response from both the architect and me were: “Baby box? What’s that?”


The two men explained that a baby box is a device installed in the wall of the building — similar to a safety deposit box — that allows someone to safely and anonymously surrender an infant without having to have a face-to-face interaction. We went on to have a short discussion about Daniel’s Law, which is South Carolina’s version of a Safe Haven law. These laws allow for a parent in crisis to surrender an infant without facing criminal punishment for child abandonment. Many times the law designates certain locations as safe havens, including fire and EMS stations.

As a project developer, one of the best parts of my job is the constant opportunity to learn something new. Presented with this opportunity, I returned to my office and immediately began researching more information about Daniel’s Law and baby boxes, and my search later expanded to include North Carolina’s Safe Haven law.

Here are some basic facts about each state’s law, as well as some things to know when it comes to baby boxes.

South Carolina – Daniel’s Law

Daniel’s Law went into effect in 2000 after an infant boy was found buried in a landfill — not long after birth. The nurses who cared for the baby named him Daniel.

Originally, the law applied to infants up to 30 days old; however, it was updated last year to include infants up to 60 days old. The South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) administers the law, which provides immunity from prosecution for the parent if the infant is surrendered unharmed to an employee or staff member of a designated safe haven.

Safe havens are defined as a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, law enforcement agency, fire station, emergency medical services (EMS) station, or a house of worship during the time it is staffed. As an employee of a designated safe haven, you must accept the infant. Under Daniel’s Law, the staff member receiving the child must request the individual surrendering the baby to provide medical information about the parents and the parents’ names. However, this information is not required, and the parents and/or person surrendering the baby can choose to remain anonymous.

If no medical or parental information is disclosed, the staff member is to give DSS form 3082 and a stamped, addressed envelope to the person, so he or she may provide the information in the future. A staff member should also fill out form 3082 with any information available to accompany the child. The infant should be transported to a hospital or hospital outpatient facility within six hours after being received at a safe haven. Staff members at a safe haven are immune from liability as long as there is compliance with the law.

North Carolina – Safe  Surrender Law

Created in 2001, North Carolina’s law is commonly referred to as the Safe Surrender Law, and it’s administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Division of Social Services (DSS). It differs from common Safe Haven laws because it does not designate specific places where a baby can be surrendered.

Instead, North Carolina’s law states that an infant up to seven days old can be surrendered to “any responsible adult.” The law does cite specific people as examples, including EMS workers, but the emphasis is on the parent in crisis leaving the infant with a “responsible adult” instead of abandoning the boy or girl somewhere that is potentially unsafe.

The Safe Surrender Law is similar to Daniel’s Law in that it requests the parent to provide medical and family history information; however, it is not required. The parent can remain anonymous if he or she wishes. Anyone who receives a surrendered child should keep him or her safe and immediately contact 911 or the local DSS office.

What About Baby Boxes?

Baby boxes, also known as baby hatches, have been around in some form or another since the Middle Ages, and they are still currently used in several countries — especially across Europe. In the United States, baby boxes are a relatively new thing.

An Arizona law allows drop-off drawers at some hospitals, and baby boxes were installed at two fire stations in Indiana last year. A non-profit group called Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Inc. (SHBB) installed the boxes, and they appear to be the first baby boxes installed in the country that are at a location other than a hospital. SHBB’s mission is to raise awareness and education of Safe Haven laws and promote the use of baby boxes as a way for a parent in crisis to safely surrender an infant.

When opened, an alarm attached to the box automatically makes a call to 911 to dispatch first responders. If an infant is placed inside the box, the alarm will be triggered a second time through motion sensors. A heating and cooling pad is provided inside the box to protect the child. When closed, the box automatically locks and can only be opened by first responders.

SHBB believes the boxes provide another resource to parents in crisis who may not want to have a face-to-face interaction when surrendering a child. However, the state of Indiana doesn’t necessarily agree. Indiana’s legislature passed a law in 2015 directing the state’s Department of Health to create rules governing the boxes, but the department has declined to set rules because Indiana’s Commission on Improving the Status of Children (CISC) does not recommend the use of baby boxes. In late 2016, Indiana’s Department of Child Services (DCS) challenged the legality of the boxes installed by SHBB. An amendment to the original law was introduced this past February but did not get enough support for a vote. The legality of the boxes are still in limbo.

How About Baby Boxes in the Carolinas?

I reached out to South Carolina’s DSS and North Carolina’s DHHS to ask their position on the use of baby boxes. SC-DSS stated that, per Daniel’s Law, the infant must be left in the physical custody of a staff member or employee of the designated safe haven. Therefore, a baby box would not meet this requirement. Furthermore, I was told that a bill has been introduced to further expand the age a baby can be surrendered up to one year. A baby box could present physical limitations to surrendering an older baby were this law passed. NC-DHHS had not responded at the time this article was due.

Overall, based on what is currently happening in Indiana and the response received from SC-DSS, it appears the use of baby boxes is still controversial. At Bobbitt Design Build, we are experts on design and construction — not laws and legislation — but we would advise that baby boxes may not meet the requirements to provide immunity from prosecution to the individual surrendering the child. If your fire department were considering the installation of a baby box or similar device in your station, you should consult with SC-DSS or NC-DHHS directly.

Regardless, everyone on all sides of this issue can agree that awareness and education is an important part of any Safe Haven law. Many government agencies and advocacy groups can provide additional information and even training to you and your staff if needed. I hope that, like me, you’ve learned a little bit more about some of the peripheral issues that can impact your job.

Matt Culler is a project developer at Bobbitt Design Build, based in the company’s Columbia, S.C., office. Culler works with businesses and organizations to help them achieve their goals for new and renovated facilities. Prior to joining Bobbitt, Culler worked for Mead and Hunt Engineers and Architects in environmental and commercial site development. He is a member of South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association, Urban Land Institute, and Society for Marketing Professional Services.

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