Iowa Safe Haven law expanded, locals talk community impact

Iowa Safe Haven law expanded, locals talk community impact

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Since the law was enacted 16 years ago, there have only been around 30 children declared save haven babies in Iowa Ñ with none reported in Marshall County. However, this figure doesnÕt take into account the number of youth removed from the home at an older age, in direct relation to any problems within the family unit.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed over 170 bills during and after the legislative session, with some of these laws having taken effect July 1 — the start of Iowa’s new fiscal year. Of note to families in crisis is the expansion of the 2002 Safe Haven Act, intended to make it easier for parents to surrender a newborn baby to a designated safe haven location. In Marshalltown, agencies such as the Marshalltown Police Department and Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS) work with families to help provide short-term and long-term crisis intervention.

Previously, the Safe Haven Act protected parents from being prosecuted for abandonment when giving up an infant two week old or younger. Now, parents have until the baby is a month old to make this decision. In addition, parents (or someone acting on their behalf) can reach out to a first responder — firefighter, paramedic/EMT, police officer or nurse, directly.

“Now people can call 911 and a first responder will come to you — I think this is a good move,” MPD Chief Michael Tupper said.

Since the law was enacted 16 years ago, there have only been around 30 children declared save haven babies in Iowa — with none reported in Marshall County. However, this figure doesn’t take into account the number of youth removed from the home at an older age, in direct relation to any problems within the family unit.

“Having a baby is not always a happy time, generally it is, but for some folks, they’re in crisis, and it can cause them to experience a lot of different challenges, but there are resources in the community that want to help,” Tupper said. “We deal with a lot of child abuse issues here at the police department, and work very close with CAPS and DHS, and the goal is always to help families resolve challenges so that children can stay in the home, but occasionally we have to remove children for safety reasons.”

He said the specific changes to the law aren’t expected to have much of an impact on the MPD’s day-to-day operations.

“I think it’s really minimal,” he said.

In Marshall County, UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown’s emergency room and the Iowa Veterans Home are the designated safe haven drop spots.

Emma Chase, community engagement coordinator at CAPS, said these two facilities were approved as sites because they both adhere to the guidelines of there being a registered nurse on staff 24 hours a day.

Parents do not have to provide any identifying information when surrendering a baby, although offering up any pertinent medical history pertaining to the child is helpful. After a routine medical examination, the child is immediately given to DHS.

According to a press release issued by DHS, “Infants who are safe haven babies are placed with currently-approved foster or adoptive families.”

A hearing to formally sever parental rights of both parents is held within 30 days before the infant can be placed for adoption. The date and time of such courtroom proceedings is posted to local media outlets.

When a child is removed from the home, or surrendered through Safe Haven, he or she is often first placed in temporary childcare, such as through CAPS.

“We could keep a child surrendered through Safe Haven for 24 hours, while we wait for DHS to find a more permanent arrangement,” CAPS Family Support Worker Emma Macy said. “We have eight providers that are able to take children for us. That is how our Crisis Child Care program would become involved.”

For all other crises, including a sick or injured parent or other family emergency, a youngster can spend up to 72 hours in a Crisis Child Care home.

“CAPS has a lot of options for new parents that provide assistance, whether that be a parent contacting us on our 24 hour crisis line or in our crisis intervention program — parents who may be at a place where they’re in that crisis, but Safe Haven is not what they’re looking for,” Macy said.

While the expansion of this law has the potential to increase the amount of infants surrendered, Macy and Chase said it may also have the opposite effect.

“I think that window of time will also give families the opportunity to pursue other supports and options for help,” Macy said.

“In those first two weeks, it’s very new, exciting — you’re having a lot of friends and family around you — but then after that, things might kind of settle a little bit, so (the changes to the law) will help people to really access and decide if keeping the baby is something they’re able to do physically, mentally and monetarily,” Chase said. “Safe Haven is a worst case scenario situation. Our goal for Crisis Child Care is to provide family support before it gets to that point.”

For more information, visit: http://dhs.iowa.gov/safe-haven

The CAPS 24 hour crisis line may be reached at: 641-752-1730.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com