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Legislation introduced to provide safe haven for voluntarily relinquished infants

By Jill Penley

House Commerce Committee Chairman Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) is set to introduce an amendment to House Bill 534 to provide safe haven for voluntarily relinquished infants.As amended, House Bill 534 will now pave the way for the use of safe haven drop off baby boxes in Tennessee for unharmed, newborn babies who cannot be properly cared for by their parents. These safe haven boxes would be placed within any hospital facility, community health clinic, outpatient walk-in clinic, fire department, law enforcement facility, or emergency medical services facility that is staffed 24 hours a day.

All safe haven boxes would be enclosed, locked, and monitored compartments that meet safety requirements established by the Department of Health. Each facility receiving possession of a voluntarily relinquished baby on its premises would then be required to protect the child’s physical health and safety. As soon as reasonably possible and no later than 24 hours after facilities receive an infant, they must contact the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to make arrangements to provide care, custody, and control of an infant.

As amended, House Bill 534 also asks facility employees or medical professionals to inquire about any information related to the child’s medical history, as well as family medical history if an individual purporting to be the parent voluntarily leaves their baby with an employee or medical professional with no intention of returning for that child. All information gathered would then be shared with DCS in order to provide quality care for the child and also expedite the adoption process.

“Babies are our most precious gifts, and all deserve a loving, forever home,” said Chairman Hill. “Sometimes, a new parent does not have the resources to care for their baby, or they become overwhelmed and are not sure where they can turn for help. House Bill 534 is designed to provide another safe option for babies who are voluntarily handed over while also accelerating the adoption process so these children can find safe, loving environments that allow them to flourish.”

The amended legislation also encourages employees and medical professionals that directly interact with a parent in the process of voluntarily handing over their baby to inform them about social service agencies available to assist in the care of the infant and to contact DCS, so the department is immediately involved in the process. House Bill 534 is expected to be heard in the House Children & Families Subcommittee on Feb. 26, 2020.