On Thursday, the North Carolina Senate will vote on Senate Bill 20, the “Safe Surrender Infants” bill, which aims to expand the state’s newborn safe surrender law. The bill, sponsored by Senator Jim Burgin, R-Lee, cleared the Rules and Operations Committee on Wednesday after being approved by the Health Care and Judiciary Committees.
The Department of Health and Human Services (D.H.H.S.) supports S.B. 20, mainly because the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force recommended support.
S.B. 20 would amend House Bill 275, the “Infant Homicide Prevention Act,” which was signed into law in 2001. The bill would decriminalize the act of parental abandonment for a newborn not more than seven days old, as long as the infant is not a victim of neglect or abuse.
Currently, the law prefers that the infant be placed in the temporary custody of a healthcare provider, law enforcement officer, social services worker, or emergency medical services worker.
The main change in SB20 is that it removes the option of surrendering to any individual in an effort to help prevent human trafficking.
Senator Burgin stated that safe surrender laws exist in all states and are designed to provide a safe alternative for desperate parents who may be tempted to engage in harmful actions to their infant.
According to D.H.H.S., 16 infants have been surrendered in North Carolina as of 2021, including five in 2020. The law allows the parent to surrender the infant without providing their name, but SB20 would add the option for the person accepting the infant to ask for the parent’s identity, date of birth, medical history, and marital status if applicable. However, the parent is not required to provide this information, and all information must remain confidential.
The bill would offer the surrendering parent immunity from prosecution as long as safe surrender criteria are met. It would also allow the non-surrendering parent to gain custody as long as the infant has not been subjected to neglect or abuse by them.
If a parent seeks custody, the county social services department must request a DNA test if parentage is uncertain. The surrendering parent would have the right to contact the department and request custody within 60 days of surrendering the infant, but the department must treat the request as a report of neglect and comply with state law. After 60 days, if the surrendering parent does not seek to reclaim custody, the department must initiate a termination of parental rights.
S.B. 20 also requires local boards of education to inform high school students about how to abandon a newborn lawfully and applies to charter, home, and non-public schools. The proposed changes to the Safe Surrender law aim to provide a safe and secure alternative for parents in crisis and prevent infant abandonment and homicide.