John Courage, San Antonio District 9 City Council member, in partnership with community groups is proposing installation of "safe haven" devices in designated locations for parents who feel the need to safely surrender newborns.
Courage and representatives from local organizations gathered for a Sept. 2 news conference at City Hall. He said he was submitted a council consideration request, which will undergo city staff review before the full council gets a recommendation.
City officials said, between 2018 and March 2022, there were 59 cases of babies surrendered at so-called safe haven sites, as reported by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services—172 in Texas since 2009.
The number of safe and legal surrenders has decreased in recent years, while the cases of severe child abuse and abandoned babies in dangerous conditions has increased, city officials added.
Courage called the decision to surrender a newborn child “an excruciating experience” for a parent who must be feeling desperation to take such a course of action. He described “baby boxes” that would allow parents to safely leave their infant quickly and anonymously without having to face embarrassment or stigma that could follow face-to-face interaction.
“Unplanned pregnancies will likely increase because of newly restricted women’s health care options. Safe surrender locations are the last resort for a mother or family, and a renewed chance for an infant. Unfortunately, we have no doubt these anonymous surrender locations will be needed to save lives,” Courage said.
According to a news release, in jurisdictions where allowed, these safety devices are created to maintain an optimal environment for the care of an infant and must meet the following requirements:
- Be physically located inside a safe haven site, which may include a hospital, law enforcement agency, or fire department, staffed 24 hours a day by a medical services provider;
- Be in an area conspicuous and visible to the employees of the safe haven site;
- Allow a child to be placed anonymously from outside the facility;
- Lock after a child is placed in it so a person outside the facility cannot access the child;
- Provide a controlled environment for the care and protection of the child;
- Notify a centralized location in the facility within 30 seconds of a child being placed in the device; and
- Trigger a 911 call if staff at the facility do not respond within a reasonable amount of time after a child is placed in the device.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said women who find themselves in a desperate situation should not fear prosecution for appropriately using a responsible, safe option to surrender a baby.
“When used appropriately and as described, ... utilizing a safe haven baby box does not meet the elements of abandoning or endangering a child in Texas and is not a crime. This initiative will protect children. I am proud to stand with the District 9 councilman and other community leaders in support of this initiative,” Gonzales said.