Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Center for Public Policy

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Holsworth


This study represents an attempt to describe the extent and features of safe haven legislation in the United States, discuss implementation issues, and to examine if the legislation is reaching its intended target audience in order to answer the question, "Is safe haven legislation an efficacious response to infant abandonment?" Safe havens are designated locations where infants can be anonymously abandoned without fear of prosecution or incarceration. As of May of 2006, forty-seven states have passed such legislation, citing the need for an alternative to unsafe infant abandonment leading to an infant's death, and an alternative to infanticide (the killing of an infant within one year of its birth). Since the initial passage of this legislation in Texas in 1999, there have been more unsafe infant abandonments than accounts of safe haven abandonments. As this legislation provides for anonymous infant abandonment researchers cannot study the population of women actually utilizing safe havens. Therefore, the study of women seeking connection with safe havens in comparison to the population of women who have engaged in infant abandonment resulting in an infant's death is considered one of the sole viable sources of insight into this problem. The scope of the research is exploratory in nature and analyses are considered preliminary due to the lack of data that exists in this area and the relative newness of the legislation.A quantitative analysis of women likely to utilize safe havens reveals that they have a mean age of 19, are unmarried, have entered into prenatal care late, have disclosed their pregnancy to someone, and are currently dating the birthfather. The findings from this analysis were compared to those from a national linked birth and infant death dataset to ascertain if women seeking safe havens have similar biopsychosocial characteristics as those engaging in unsafe abandonment leading to an infant's death. Similar biopsychosocial characteristics were found including mother's age, marital status, late entry into prenatal care, disclosure of pregnancy, and dating status. A regression analysis was used to construct a biopsychosocial profile of women likely to abandon an infant. Findings suggest that legislators and those involved with safe havens have some knowledge of their target population, but are not effectively reaching this audience, nor promoting the existence of safe havens. They also appear to be utilizing research findings on infanticide inappropriately, in order to profile their target audience. This effectively limits the promulgation of education and early identification services that could prevent both safe haven and unsafe infant abandonments. This study concludes with policy reform recommendations.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008