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Georgia's Safe Haven Law: If You're Going to Do It, Do It Right

Some women feel overwhelmed by motherhood. Maybe they can't afford a child or they lack a support system to help raise the baby. Unfortunately, sometimes these mothers choose to abandon their baby in a place where the child either won't be found or could be injured or killed.

In response, Georgia lawmakers passed the Safe Place for Newborns Act of 2002. The act protects mothers who abandon their children in a "medical facility." Below, we've included everything you need to know about Georgia's safe haven law.

What is Georgia's safe haven law?

Normally a mother who abandons her infant can be charged with cruelty to a child, abandonment, or contributing to the delinquency or deprivation of a minor. Those are serious crimes that carry harsh penalties.

Under Georgia's safe haven law, however, mothers who leave their infant at a medical facility and follow certain guidelines are protected from criminal prosecution. The law is designed to prevent newborn injuries and deaths by giving mothers a safe place to leave their children.

What do you do?

"Medical facility" includes hospitals, health centers, infirmaries, and birthing centers. However, you can't simply leave the child in the entryway or waiting room. Under the Act, the mother is required to show a valid ID and give her name and address to the hospital staff.

You won't have to explain your situation or offer any reason for your decision. While the system is otherwise anonymous, your name is required in case the staff finds evidence that the child was abused or neglected.

In addition, the child can't be over 7 days old. If the child is older than 7 days, you'll have to work with an adoption agency instead.

What happens to the child?

The medical facility will examine the child and administer treatment, if needed. Once the child is well enough to be discharged, he'll be placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services. From there, the child will likely be placed with an appropriate caregiver, like a foster home or adoptive parent.

What if you change your mind?

You have a short window of time to change your mind. If you return to the medical facility within a few days, you should be able to claim your child before she is placed in the care of the Department of Human Services. If you don't reclaim your child, your parental rights will usually be terminated within a few months.

If you have any questions about Georgia's safe haven law, you can call 1-888-510-BABY to receive counseling and get information about the closest safe haven location. Good luck.

This post is part of FindLaw's Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life. Do you have a topic suggestion? Send us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #LegalU and come on back to learn more from future posts in this series.

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