TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney which would require the State Department of Children and Families to expand community outreach in order to better educate the New Jersey public about the State’s Safe Haven Law was approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 76-0, receiving final legislative approval.
“New Jersey’s Safe Haven law has been one of the great success stories in terms of reducing child abandonment and giving children a chance to grow up in a safe, healthy environment,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “However, despite the fact that the law has reduced illegal child abandonment by more than 50 percent since its inception, many parents remain unaware of the law. We need to better promote the Safe Haven option for parents who feel that they have nowhere else to go.”
The bill, S-184, would require the Department of Children and Families to notify relevant county and municipal government agencies that deliver social services administered by the Department, as well as public and non-profit social service agencies, physicians, pregnancy crisis centers, adoption agencies and colleges and universities about the availability of information concerning the “New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act.” Under the terms of the bill, information would include pamphlets, posters and other materials available on the Department’s Internet site in order to promote the Safe Haven program.
“This legislation will require the Department to work cooperatively with local social service providers and other agencies and organizations to promote Safe Haven,” said Senator Sweeney. “A program like the State’s Safe Haven system is only effective if the general public is aware of its existence. This bill will go a long way to improve public awareness of the Safe Haven alternative and will hopefully encourage more parents in need to pursue this safe, healthy avenue to get their kids in foster or adoptive care.”
The New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2000, permits distressed parents who are unable or unwilling to care for an infant to give up custody of a baby who is less than 30 days old safely, legally and anonymously. Current law limits the acceptable Safe Haven sites to police stations and hospital emergency rooms, and as long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse, no name or other information is required from the person delivery the baby. After a child is dropped off at a Safe Haven site, he or she is examined and given medical treatment, if needed, and is then remanded to the custody of the Division of Youth and Family Services, which arranges for the placement of the child in a foster or pre-adoptive home.
“Before the adoption of the Safe Haven law, we heard horror stories about pregnant teens hiding their pregnancy and disposing of the baby when they come to term,” said Senator Sweeney. “As a father of two amazing kids, I can tell you that being a dad is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. For folks who aren’t ready to take on that level of responsibility, they should know that in New Jersey, they can give up their child safely, legally and anonymously, and give their baby a chance at a life they wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate in March of 2008. It now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.