Safe haven laws
Most of the world’s nations, especially those in the middle- and low-income levels of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, are concerned about infant mortality as a significant public health issue. In most developed countries, however, the problem is not as pronounced, with most countries in this category reporting a significant reduction in infant mortality over the last 50 years. With these cases being three times as prevalent in the United States (US) as they are in Hong Kong, Finland, Singapore, and Canada, the US has severely lagged behind its counterparts, placing 33rd out of 36 (OECD countries). The fact that African Americans report more cases than other groups raises the most alarm, with reports indicating as much as five times more issues in this group than among white and Asian population groups, much of which is credited to historical socioeconomic factors. The leading causes of these deaths are low birth weight, congenital malformation, and maternal complications consecutively. Black mothers are also less likely to receive prenatal care (68%) than white mothers, for whom 82% have access to MCH care, which further compounds the problem and calls for policy intervention to address the issue.
Safe Haven Laws and their impact on infant mortality.
Safe haven laws have made a significant impact by keeping infants alive and secure when a biological parent is unable to look after them. As an interventionist action to decrease incidences of infanticide and abandonment, all 50 states have enacted safe haven laws in one way or another. (Thomas & Kaminsky, 2021). Safe haven laws are meant to provide a legal avenue where mothers or designated persons may relinquish an infant to a legally designated safety point as a way to reduce infant mortality cases and infanticide while providing a safe and secure environment for child development and reducing the burden of childcare, especially to mothers who may not have the ability to provide for their infant (Child et al., 2017). To prevent abuse and enforce responsibility, most of these laws placed liability on the specific party if the relinquishment was done outside the statutory regulation, inadvertently criminalizing some aspect of the safe heavens, essentially countering the whole intention of this legal proposition (Ali, 2019). The biggest holdup to evaluating the impact of these laws on aggregate infant mortality statistics is the lack of a common database which has led to calls for a more robust data collection strategy to provide for monitoring and evaluation of the efficacy of these laws and allow for improvement where a need may be recognized. In the US, a study evaluating the effect of safe haven legislation on infant mortality between 1989-1998 and 2008-2017 found a 67% reduction in infant mortality between the two periods under consideration (Wilson et al., 2020). The study further found no significant relationship between age limit of legal relinquishment and rates of infanticide
Another issue arising from the law’s proposition is the lack of anonymity whereby the parent or legal guardian has to hand over the infant to the safe haven failure, which may be considered abandonment, a prosecutable crime. This issue may force mothers and other legal guardians to reconsider relinquishing their infants as they may feel judged and victimized (Ali, 2019). In order to counter this, various states have come up with safe haven baby boxes which allow anonymous relinquishment of the baby at a designated safe haven without physical interactions between the mothers and the caregivers that reducing the stigma associated with the action and improving overall the process of handing over the baby while also providing an affirmative defense in case of prosecution for child abandonment. Lack of education is another area of weakness in addressing the cases of infant mortality in the context of safe havens. While all 50 states have a safe haven law, public information and education on the availability of these services is nonexistent, with most mothers unaware of this option considering that mothers most likely to seek the services of safe haven are young, single, and poor. (Thomas & Kaminsky, 2022). To suggest that sustained efforts should be made to enlighten those in society who are most susceptible to newborn mortality and likely to perpetrate infant homicide about the availability of safe havens.
The report acknowledges the effectiveness of safe haven in eliminating infant mortality and infanticide cases among minorities, particularly in black communities. Safe These laws have made a significant impact by keeping infants alive and safe in cases where the biological parent cannot care for them due to socioeconomic or psychological reasons. In most cases, these children end up in better homes where adoptive parents provide love and care rather than being swallowed up in the foster system, which has weaknesses. Beginning with Texas, all states currently have a functioning safe haven system. However, some systemic issues can be addressed through education, awareness, empowerment, increased anonymity, and addressing the stigma associated with relinquishing a child and providing psychological care for both the child and the mother. Even when these laws appear beneficial, some academics have criticized them for failing to consider the complicated requirements of expectant mothers and cultural, racial, and socioeconomic concerns that influence women’s motives for giving up their babies. Experts also stressed that a lack of knowledge and awareness is a significant contributing factor to the ineffectiveness of legislation, notwithstanding other factors.
Ali, R. (2019, September 13). Things you did not know about Safe Haven laws: Every state has one. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/parenting/2019/09/13/safe-haven-laws-things-you-didnt-know-surrendering-newborn/2031516001/
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017). Infant Safe Haven Laws. December 1–5. https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/statutes/safehaven/
Thomas, K. A., & Kaminsky, C. J. (2021). The State-Level Impact of Safe Haven Laws on Rates of Infant Mortality in the United States: A Legal Epidemiology Study. MedRxiv, 1(165), 1–13. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1101/2022
Thomas, K. A., & Kaminsky, C. J. (2022). The Association Between State-Level Safe Haven Laws and Rates of Infant Mortality in the United States: A Legal Epidemiology Study. Researchgate. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.11.16.22282430
Wilson, R. F., Klevens, J., Williams, D., & Xu, L. (2020). Infant Homicides Within the Context of Safe Haven Laws — United States, 2008–2017. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(39), 1385–1390. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6939a1