Department of Social Services, Building a Stronger Louisiana - Kristy H. Nichols, Secretary
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 8, 2009

Contact:
Trey Williams, 225-342-6700
trey.williams@dss.state.la.us


DSS Launches Safe Haven Public Awareness Campaign

Agency aims to ensure newborn safety by providing information on legal custody relinquishment

BATON ROUGE - Louisiana Department of Social Services (DSS) today announced a public awareness campaign, including a partnership with Lamar Advertising Co. for billboards statewide, to provide information about Louisiana's Safe Haven Law, which allows parents to legally relinquish custody of an infant at designated locations without the threat of prosecution.

In addition to the public awareness campaign, DSS also is exploring possible legislation to expand the Safe Haven designated locations to include churches and to require signage designating Safe Haven facilities.

"By promoting awareness of the law, increasing the availability of information regarding this legal option for parents, and working with our partners, DSS hopes to prevent future tragedies like the abandonment of the newborn in Kenner yesterday," said Kristy Nichols, DSS secretary. "We hope that parents will understand the legal options they have when faced with the difficult decision of giving up custody of a newborn child, and that with increased awareness, parents -- especially young mothers, will be able to seek the medical care and social support they need to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth."

The campaign, which will kick-off in the coming days, will include:
  • Informational brochures to be distributed around the state at such locations as all DSS offices, hospitals, pregnancy clinics and child advocacy centers;
  • A Web site, www.LouisianaSafeHaven.com, dedicated to providing information about the law and resources for parents in crisis;
  • Public service announcements on radio and television; and
  • An outdoor media campaign in partnership with Lamar Advertising Company
Under the current law, a parent may leave a baby up to 31-days-old in the care of an individual at a designated emergency care facility. The baby cannot be left unattended and must show no signs of abuse or neglect.

Louisiana's designated emergency care facilities are any licensed hospital, public health unit, emergency medical service provider, medical clinic, fire or police station, pregnancy crisis center or child advocacy center.

DSS recommends that parents who want to relinquish their newborns take the following steps:
  1. Locate the nearest emergency care facility (i.e. hospital, public health unit, any EMS unit, medical clinic, fire or police station, pregnancy crisis center or child advocacy center)
  2. Locate an employee with the facility, hand your child to them and state that you want to utilize Louisiana's Safe Haven law.
After the child is given up, he or she is taken for a medical checkup. The relinquishing parent is provided a card with a toll-free phone number (1-800-CHILDREN or 1-800-244-5373) to call and receive information about parental rights and provide anonymous information about the infant's medical and genetic history, if desired. A parent who wishes to initiate proceedings to reclaim custody of the child has 30 days to contact DSS.

Meanwhile, officials at the designated emergency care facility that received the child notify DSS. The Office of Community Services (OCS) begins the process to obtain legal custody of the child and to free the child for adoption.

A series of high-profile infant abandonment cases across the country prompted the Louisiana Legislature to combat the problem. In 2000, Louisiana enacted such a law, amending the Children's Code Articles 1101 and 1193 and Title XVII of the Children's Code, Articles 1701-1706, to provide for the Safe Haven relinquishment of newborns. That Code again was amended in 2003.

In 2004, DSS, in partnership with stakeholders, created the state's current Safe Haven policies and procedures. Since 2004, eight infants have been relinquished in Louisiana through the Safe Haven law, most recently in October 2008.

Safe Haven Relinquishments since 2004:
Date Location
May 2004 Slidell area
November 2004 Lafayette area
April 2005 New Orleans area
May 2005 New Orleans area
June 2007 Lafayette area
July 2007 New Orleans area
September 2007 Shreveport area
October 2008 New Orleans area

According to the National Safe Haven Alliance, all 50 states have some form of Safe Haven provision.

For more information about the Safe Haven law, call 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373) or visit www.LouisianaSafeHaven.com.

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627 N. Fourth St. | Baton Rouge, LA 70802 | PH: (225) 342-0286 | FX: (225) 342-8636 | www.dss.louisiana.gov



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