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Indiana's Safe Haven Law promises anonymity, but are there exceptions?

Posted at 12:48 PM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 13:28:58-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s Safe Haven Law was created as an anonymous way for parents to safely surrender their newborns without fear of prosecution or judgment, but questions remain about whether the state has any right to break that anonymity for certain cases.

The law has been in effect since 2000. Since the Department of Child Services began tracking Safe Haven infants in 2008, 47 newborns have come through the system.

As the opioid crisis continues to rage, we’re seeing more and more babies born addicted to drugs. For some women in crisis who feel unable to parent their child, safely surrendering them through the Safe Haven Law may be their last resort - but is it truly anonymous?

MAP | Indiana's Safe Haven Babies

The Safe Haven Law “enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously, without fear of arrest or prosecution. As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required.”

That definition leaves a little room for interpretation. The question remains, is there any situation where the state can come after someone who is trying to surrender their he child under the Safe Haven Law?

Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, says there have been instances where the state has tried.

"Right now, we are aware of at least one case where the state has tried bringing charges against a mother who surrendered her baby."

There are also instances where Safe Haven Baby Boxes has had to step in to help.

READ | Indiana's Safe Haven Baby Boxes are saving lives

“We have a situation this year where our attorney had to get involved to protect a mother’s rights and safe haven baby boxes, or myself, we know her identity because we’ve been working with her,” Kelsey said. “We have not released her information, nor will we.”

Safe Haven Baby Box

The exact circumstances of that situation have not been released, because it involves a child, but Kelsey says those circumstances don’t matter. Her organization will fight to keep any parent’s identity anonymous.

We spoke to local attorney Julie Dixon — who is not associated with Safe Haven Baby Boxes or the case in question — about how that law might be interpreted when it comes to drug addiction.

“Abuse is typically some sort of actual criminal act,” Dixon. “Therefore, I wouldn’t believe that it’s defined as drug abuse being a criminal act.”

That being said, Dixon said the law is still relatively new and that enforcement hasn’t been tested in the court systems.

“I think it’s a very gray area of the law and it’s going to probably come down to each particular prosecutor in that particular county to determine what they’re going to do with that case.”

We reached out to the Department of Child Services to see if they had any guidance on the process used when determining the scope of these sorts of cases, but they did not have any information to release at this time.

Kelsey says the Safe Haven Hotline and their Safe Haven Baby Boxes will always be a safe and anonymous way for mother's to surrender their infant if their situation is dire — no matter what the circumstances.

"If a mother gives birth to a child that is addicted to drugs, the Department of Child Services is going to be notified. This is not a secret. But surrendering under the Safe Haven law does protect them and does protect their child," Kelsey said.