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A California state law was created in January 2001 that allows an infant to be safely surrendered voluntarily to a police, fire, or hospital facility, by a parent or person with lawful custody, within 72 hours of the birth. Despite the passage of this law, Don Knabe was alarmed by the number of infants that continued to be abandoned in dumpsters and other unsafe places. As an LA County Supervisor, he took steps to direct several Los Angeles County agencies to provide recommendations on how to improve the program. In 2002, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the implementation of 12 recommendations to improve and promote the program. Since the Safely Surrendered Baby Law went into effect, 160 babies have been safely surrendered in Los Angeles County and welcomed into loving homes. For more information, please visit: babysafela.org
What is the Safely Surrendered Baby (SSB) Law?
The Safely Surrendered Baby (SSB) Law allows a parent or person with lawful custody to surrender a baby confidentially without fear of arrest or prosecution for child abandonment as long as the infant has not been abused or neglected and is under 72 hours old. No questions asked. It provides a legal option to parents who would otherwise abandon their newborns in an unsafe manner.
How does the law work?
A parent who is unwilling or unable to care for an infant can legally and confidentially surrender their baby within 72 hours of birth at any hospital or fire station. In Los Angeles County, hospitals and fire stations display a safe surrender logo visible from the outside of their facility.
How are safe surrender sites identified?
Each hospital and participating fire station is required to post a sign utilizing a statewide logo adopted by the California Department of Social Services in a visible location. Surrender site locations are listed at babysafela.org. This website is maintained by the California Department of Social Services. The BabySafeLA.org website allows one to find the nearest safe surrender location by typing in a zip code.
What is the criteria for becoming a safe surrender site?
According to the California Department of Social Services, in LA County, all hospitals and fire stations are safe surrender sites. The site should be able to provide immediate medical assessment/basic critical care to an infant who has been surrendered.
Can the surrendering party leave the baby in a safe location and contact the hospital or fire station to notify them where the baby was left?
No, the law requires that physical custody of infants must be safely surrendered to “personnel on duty at a surrender site”.
What information must fire/hospital personnel ask of the parent or surrendering party?
Once a baby is surrendered, the hospital or fire department staff must make a good faith effort to have the surrendering party complete a medical questionnaire pertaining to the baby. The medical questionnaire was created specifically for safe surrender purposes and includes legally required language outlining for the parent, the importance of providing medical information about the baby. The questionnaire does not require any identifying information. It maybe declined or voluntarily completed on site, or the surrendering party may be allowed to fill it out and return it (by mail to the hospital).
What type of medical care is provided to the surrendered infant?
Fire department and Hospital staff shall ensure that a medical screening examination and any necessary medical care is provided to the infant. Hospitals that do not routinely provide newborn care should have procedures in place to ensure that the surrendered infant is examined by a qualified medical professional and that all necessary newborn screening tests are performed (e.g., by calling in a qualified medical professional or transferring the infant to another hospital).
Is the consent of the parent or other relative needed to provide the infant with medical care?
How are the infant’s medical costs covered?
Surrendered infants are eligible for Medi-Cal.
What else is required of hospital staff? How is the baby “tracked?”
Hospital staff are required to place a coded, confidential ankle bracelet on the infant. They also must make a good faith effort to provide the surrendering party with a copy of the bracelet, in the event the surrendering party wants to “reclaim” the infant at a later time.
What if a parent changes his/her mind and wants to “reclaim” the infant?
The law allows for a 14-day period, in which the surrendering party may return to the surrender site to reclaim the child. If the parent/surrendering party requests the hospital return the child within 14 days, one of two situations may occur:
Where are the medical questionnaire, return envelope, ankle bracelet and copy of the bracelet kept?
They should be contained in a safe surrender kit. Each hospital may choose an appropriate location to store these materials at that facility. Hospital staff are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the location of these Safe Surrender items at their facility so they may access them on short notice in the event of a surrender. A designated staff should make sure there are sufficient kits at the site for immediate use. Kits can be requested from BabySafeLA.org or from ICAN.
What else are hospital staff required to do?
As soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours after the hospital receives physical custody of the child, the hospital must contact the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Child Protection Hotline, at 1-800-540-4000.
What information should the hospital provide to DCFS about the mother/child? What information should remain confidential?
In addition to the medical questionnaire, non-identifying information regarding the circumstances of the surrender, mother’s and child’s medical condition/treatment, etc. shall be provided to DCFS. However, the law specifically states that “any personal identifying information that pertains to a parent or individual who surrenders a child shall be redacted from any medical information provided to” DCFS. Any identifying information “obtained as a result of the questionnaire . . . or in any other manner, is confidential” and shall not be released to DCFS (Health and Safety Code, Section 1255.7). This includes maintaining confidentiality in birth records prepared by hospital birth clerks.
What form should birth clerks complete in the instance of a safe surrender?
For safely surrendered babies, birth clerks should complete the Certificate of Finding of Unknown Child (VS 136) which is entered into the electronic birth registration system (AVSS). When hospital staff erroneously provide DCFS with identifying information, the infant’s adoption becomes unnecessarily complicated and may be significantly delayed.
What should hospital staff do if a woman gives birth in the hospital and states she is unable or unwilling to care for the child? Can she surrender her child?
While the law does not specifically address hospital births, current State policy allows for the surrender of babies born in hospitals when the parent specifically requests that the law be applied. To be considered a safe surrender, the mother must be able to minimally describe the concepts of the SSB Law. If a mother clearly states that she is aware of her right to safely surrender her infant and does not wish to work with social work staff, the case should be treated as a safe surrender. HOWEVER, if a woman gives birth in the hospital and indicates she is unable or unwilling to care for her infant, the preferred option continues to be voluntary relinquishment for adoption and a social worker should assist the mother in making the best plan for herself and her child. Hospital social work staff should work in consultation with DCFS Adoption staff to assist the mother. DCFS Adoption staff can be reached at 1-888-811-1121, extension 2, during regular work hours; at other times, the DCFS Child Protection Hotline should be contacted at 1-800-540-4000.
Is more information about the Safely Surrendered Infant Law available?
Yes, information is available at BabySafeLA.org. Presentations will be available on line or in person, free of charge to public and private organizations through the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) at 626-455-4586. Visit ICAN4Kids.org and click on the Safe Surrender tab.