Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Friday, November 14, 2008

Conference Announcement: New Approaches to Domestic Violence

The Journal of Legal Commentary of St. John's University School of Law will present its 16th Annual Symposium on Friday March 20, 2009 with the theme "Thinking Outside the Box:  New Challenges
and New Approaches to Domestic Violence."  Speakers include Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, Sarah M. Buel,
Donna Coker, Cheryl Hanna, Donna Lee,Holly Maguigan, Kristian Miccio, Emily J. Sack, Elizabeth Schneider, Deborah Tuerkheimer and Joan Zorza.

For more information please contact Karyn DiDominici
or (718) 990-1950.


November 14, 2008 in Domestic Violence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Recent Scholarship on Safe Haven Laws

Recent articles addressing Safe Haven laws include:

Carol Sanger, Infant Safe Haven Laws: Legislating In The Culture Of Life, 106 Colum. L. Rev. 753 (2006) available on SSRN

A comprehensive article that addresses safe haven in a larger context of history and politics. Professor Carol Sanger examines the problem of infant abandonment in light of history and research on the characteristics of women who abandon or kill their newborns. She concludes that Safe Haven laws are unlikely to be effective in deterring these mothers. She then examines the enactment of this legislation as part of a larger political culture and suggests that “there is a snug and interesting fit between Safe Haven legislation and a culture whose politics are increasingly organized around the protection of unborn life.” She argues that Safe Haven laws have powerful social and cultural effects: shaping “social understandings of women as untrustworthy persons” and providing additional reinforcement for the “culture of life.” Professor Sanger examines more closely the “culture of life” in this context, raising the “possibility of a dismal feedback loop between the culture of life and the problem of infant abandonment” as young pregnant women “become immobilized in a dilemma where both pregnancy and abortion have become impossible choices.”

Jeffrey A. Parness & Therese A. Clarke Arado, Safe Haven, Adoption And Birth Record Laws: Where Are The Daddies? 36 Cap. U.L. Rev. 207 (2007).  Available on SSRN

Professors Jeffrey Parness and Terese Arado presented this article as part of the Capital University Law School's annual Wells Conference on Adoption Law. The article briefly reviews safe haven laws and argues that, under these laws, paternity interests are “unreasonably, if not unconstitutionally, foreclosed when children are abandoned by their mothers.”  The article draws parallels to adoption and birth records law that also allow for “paternity losses due to maternal acts.”  The article argues that “Lost daddies are unwarranted because laws should not allow maternal privacy rights and interests to so easily foreclose chances for responsible fatherhood, especially in settings where births result from consensual sex between unwed partners.” 

BGF 11-14-08

November 14, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

FAQ on Nebraska Safe Haven Law

At last count 34 children have been left at Nebraska hospitals under the state's safe haven law.  While the legislature is meeting in special session today to amend the law to put an age limit in place, family law professors are likely facing a number of questions by students about the law.   Here's a quick crib sheet with links to references.  (all sites last visited November 14, 2008 bgf)

Q.  What is this law and do other states have it? 

A.  According to the National Safe Haven Alliance :"Safe Haven laws have been passed in all 50 states since 1999. At that time a movement arose to combat increasing cases of infant abandonments across the U.S. In many cases these infants would perish from exposure to the elements, starvation or dehydration. Safe Haven laws were created to allow an adult to anonymously relinquish a baby into the hands of a responsible adult, in most cases at hospitals, police stations or fire stations, without fear of reprisal or prosecution." 

Q.  What children are being reliquished under these laws?

The difference between the Nebraska law and these other laws is all other states have an age limit - ranging from 3 days to 1 year old.  See The National Center of States Courts Safe Haven Legislation Chart (2003).  In the first two months of the Nebraska law, the majority of children abandoned were teenagers, 90% of whome were previously involved in some type of mental health services and over half of which were at one time, or currently are wards of the state. See more statistics about the children from this report from Nebraska station KOLN/KGIN's website.

Q. Why were these laws passed?

A. The laws were passed to prevent newborns from being killed or abandoned in unsafe conditions.  "The advocates of these laws believe that lives will be saved, crimes will be prevented from occurring, and more infants will be available for adoption. Others have argued that these laws may not work, because the women who commit neonaticide often deny or conceal that they are pregnant, and do not arrange for the birthing process or for the care of the child after the birth. [Other researchers] have argued that women who commit neonaticide usually do so in a state of panic and fear, so it is unlikely that they will be sufficiently calm to consider dropping off their newborn in a designated safe place. National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center, Discarded Infants and Neonaticide: A Review of the Literature 9 (2004)(citations omitted)

Q. What happens to the parents who have abandoned their children under these laws?

A.  All safe haven laws provide some form of anonymity for the relinquishing parent and so no authorities make no attempt to identify or locate that person, though some states do allow authorities to ask for medical information from the relinquishing parent.  Most states do require verification that the infant has not been reported as a missing child, and some states require a public notice or a search for the non-relinquishing parent (nearly always the father).  All safe haven laws also provide some form of defense or immunity from criminal prosecution. 

Q.  What is a parent's rights or responsibilities if they have relinquished a child under these laws?

A.  Generally, the parent is presumed to have abandoned the child.  Abandonment is a basis for termination of parental rights. National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center, Expediting Permanency for Abandoned Infants 7 (UC Berkeley 2007).  The Nebraska law is particularly vague on the impact of a parent's abandonment under the safe haven law -- apart from providing for immunity from criminal prosecution, it's simply unclear what happens next to these children.  Read more about the problem in this Wall Street Journal article.

November 14, 2008 in Child Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hurricane Katrina -- Urban Institute report on consequences for low-income children and families

The Urban Institute released a November 5, 2008 report, "Understanding the Consequences of Hurricane Katrina for ACF Service Populations."

According to the Urban Institute, "This report is an analysis of alternative datasets and research approaches to assess the effects of Hurricane Katrina on populations served by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The assessment addresses four overarching research questions, with an emphasis on using existing datasets: 1) where did populations of interest go and where are they living since Katrina; what are the effects on income and employment; what are the needs for ACF programs and services; and how did the disaster affect ACF programs themselves? The report includes an extensive annotated bibliography of analyses through January 2007."

(visited by MIF 11-10-08)

November 10, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (4)