Virginia expands safe haven law with hopes of saving more newborns

Virginia legislators voted last week to extend the time frame during which a parent may surrender a newborn under the state’s safe haven law, and to launch a hotline for increasing awareness of the law’s existence.

According to the Virginia Mercury, lawmakers passed a total of four bills aimed at expanding the state’s safe haven laws. Three of the measures, introduced by Senators Frank Ruff and Mark Peake, extend the state’s 14-day limit for surrendering newborns to one month, and offer provisions for the state to install “newborn safety devices” like Safe Haven Baby Boxes. These boxes are temperature-controlled and alarmed, allowing a parent to surrender an infant without any face-to-face interaction. The fourth measure, introduced by Delegate Matt Farris, requires the Virginia Department of Social Services to establish a 24-hour hotline offering information about the safe haven laws, and to initiate a marketing campaign to alert Virginians of their availability.

Safe haven laws allow parents to surrender their newborns at a designated “safe haven” facility — generally a staffed hospital or fire department — without any legal ramifications. While every U.S. state has a safe haven law in place, the stipulations vary as to the age of the child being surrendered and the facilities/personnel to which a parent may surrender a child. In extending the time limit from 14 days to one month, Virginia increases the options available for new parents who, for whatever reason, may feel unable to care for their child.

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