OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 7121

AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE STATE'S SAFE HAVEN LAWS.

SUMMARY

This bill makes various changes to the state's safe haven law, which requires hospitals to designate a place in their emergency rooms where a parent or a parent's legal agent can surrender an infant up to 30 days old without facing arrest for abandonment (CGS 17a-57 et seq.).  Among its changes, the bill:

1. requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to identify a prospective adoptive parent for a safe haven infant within one business day of receiving notice of the infant's surrender to the hospital if such a parent is available;

2. specifies circumstances in which the DCF commissioner may require DNA tests to determine the infant's parentage and otherwise requires the department to get a court order for such testing;

3. limits the circumstances in which DCF may remove a safe haven infant from a prospective adoptive parent's home if the infant has been in his or her care for at least 30 days and allows the prospective adoptive parent to request a hearing before the removal;

4. clarifies the information a hospital employee may disclose about a safe haven surrender if he or she believes the infant was abused or neglected; and

5. prohibits DCF from disclosing information about the parents of a safe haven infant to a prospective adoptive parent or foster parent without a court order unless otherwise required by law.

The bill also makes minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2017

DEFINITIONS

Under the bill, a:

1. prospective adoptive parent is a foster parent awaiting the placement of, or who has, a child or children placed in his or her home under the safe haven law for adoption purposes and

2. foster parent is a person licensed by DCF or approved by a DCF-licensed child-placing agency to care for one or more children in a private home.

surrenders

Prospective Adoptive Parents ( 1)

By law, designated emergency department employees must notify DCF within 24 hours of taking physical custody of an infant, and DCF in turn must immediately take care and control of the infant on receiving such notice. Under the bill, in order to achieve safety and permanency for the infant, DCF must identify a prospective adoptive parent within one business day of receiving the notice if such a parent is available.

Permissible DNA Testing ( 2)

Under the bill, if a person claiming to be the infant's parent or lawful agent requests reunification within 30 days of the infant's surrender, the commissioner may require the requester and infant to submit to DNA tests to determine the infant's parentage. The tests must be performed by a hospital, accredited laboratory, qualified physician, or other qualified person the commissioner designates. The person seeking reunification must pay for the test, but DCF must pay for it if the commissioner determines that he or she is indigent.

The bill otherwise prohibits the commissioner from subjecting the infant to genetic testing to determine parentage or familial relationship without a court order.

REMOVALS ( 3 & 4)

The bill prohibits DCF from removing a safe haven infant from a prospective adoptive parent with whom the infant has been placed for at least 30 consecutive days unless:

1. the department possesses specific allegations and other verified affirmations of fact that demonstrate reasonable cause to believe that (a) the infant is suffering from serious physical illness or injury or is in immediate physical danger and (b) immediate removal is necessary for the infant's safety;

2. the prospective adoptive parent consents to the removal; or

3. the infant's biological parent has been identified and the court has granted that parent's request for reunification with the infant.

Under the bill, if DCF decides to remove a safe haven infant from a prospective adoptive parent's home after such a 30-day period, that parent may request that the department conduct a removal hearing. The prospective parent must make the request in writing within 10 days of receiving written notice of the department's decision to remove the infant. DCF must conduct the hearing within 30 days of receiving the request. The infant must remain in the prospective parent's care pending the hearing's outcome unless one of the above grounds for removal applies.

The hearing is an administrative proceeding conducted by DCF in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act to determine if the removal of a child from a prospective adoptive parent is in the child's best interest. The bill requires the DCF commissioner to adopt regulations for such hearings.

INFORMATION DISCLOSURES ( 2)

The bill generally prohibits any hospital employee from disclosing information about the infant, parent or lawful agent, or facts and circumstances under which the emergency room took custody of the infant. But the bill also specifies that hospital employees must disclose this information if they have reasonable cause to suspect the infant has been abused or neglected, in keeping with their responsibilities as mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. Current law generally prohibits a hospital employee who takes custody of a safe haven infant from disclosing information about the parent, agent, or infant if the parent or agent requests the information not be disclosed.

Existing law, unchanged by the bill, requires hospital employees to disclose to (1) DCF all the medical information the parent provided and (2) the Department of Public Health the infant's name and birthdate for the department to seal the infant's birth record if he or she was registered in the state vital records system before the surrender.

The bill specifies that it does not limit (1) hospital personnel from entering medically relevant information in the infant's medical record or (2) any discussion or disclosure that the hospital personnel may have with anyone if it pertains to the infant's medical care and treatment.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Human Services Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

19

Nay

0

(03/21/2017)