What Happens to Abandoned Babies?

We understand that you’re concerned about the welfare of abandoned babies. Maybe you’re hoping to adopt a child who has been abandoned, or maybe you’re considering surrendering your baby for adoption and are worried about what will happen to him or her. Or, maybe you’re just a concerned citizen.

Below, we’ll answer your questions about what happens to abandoned babies in the U.S.:

“What happens if you abandon a baby?”

Here’s what typically needs to happen in order to safely surrender a baby, although the specific process can vary from one state to the next:

  • The baby’s parent (or sometimes a person designated by the parent, depending on the state) must go to a registered Safe Haven location. Find a nearby Safe Haven location here.
  • They must enter the Safe Haven location (often a hospital, fire station, or police station).
  • They must then directly hand the newborn to a staff member.
  • They can say that they don’t intend to return, and they can leave — no questions asked.

Abandoning a baby anywhere other than a Safe Haven is illegal. The baby is only safe, and the parent is only legally protected, if the surrender is completed in accordance with that state’s Safe Haven laws. Usually this means:

  • The baby must be taken to a state-approved Safe Haven location
  • The baby must be handed directly to an on-duty staff member at the Safe Haven location
  • The baby must be unharmed
  • The baby must be within the age limit set by the state’s Safe Haven laws
  • Any other state laws have been followed carefully

“Do abandoned babies end up in foster care?”

Usually, yes. There, they will await permanent placement, which can take months or even years.

This is why placing a baby for adoption through a licensed adoption agency is always recommended over abandoning an infant (even at a Safe Haven). When a woman works with an adoption agency to make an adoption plan, her baby will be placed directly into the arms of their permanent adoptive family, and don’t need to enter foster care.

“What happens to Safe Haven babies?”

Women who are considering leaving their baby at a Safe Haven location are often worried about what happens to a Safe Haven baby after she leaves. This is understandable — she’s choosing this path because she wants what’s best for her child, even if that means surrendering him or her.

So, if you’re wondering, “Where do Safe Haven babies go?” here’s typically what happens to a surrendered baby after the parent walks away:

  • The staff member to whom the parent handed their baby at the Safe Haven will call the appropriate authorities in accordance with their state’s polices — usually a medical professional first.
  • After the baby has been medically examined, the Child Welfare Department and the police will be called. (The police are only called to make sure that the baby isn’t listed as a missing person, and to make a report — if the baby is unharmed and was surrendered to a Safe Haven, following the state’s Safe Haven laws, the parents won’t get into trouble.)
  • Depending on the state, notices may be put out in local newspapers, to allow a parent to claim custody of the child.
  • Child Welfare will take temporary custody of the baby, and the child usually enters foster care until a permanent placement can be found.

Again, this process can vary somewhat based on the state. As long as the parent surrenders their unharmed baby directly to an on-duty staff member at a Safe Haven, and all other state laws are followed, the baby should be fine.

“Who adopts babies that were abandoned under Safe Haven law?”

Waiting parents who have been screened and deemed safe to adopt, usually through the state’s foster care department, may be considered to adopt a Safe Haven baby. If you’re interested in pursuing adoption as a hopeful parent, contact your local foster care department or a private infant adoption agency to get started.

“Who takes care of abandoned babies? Can I volunteer to help?”

Abandoned babies are temporarily cared for by nurses or by emergency foster families. As soon as possible, these babies are placed into permanent adoptive families who have gone through extensive adoption processes and screening to ensure they can provide a safe home.

There was once a headline in the news that claimed people could volunteer to cuddle babies who were waiting to be adopted, but this was later proved inaccurate. These babies are constantly held, loved on and cared for by trained professionals. Rest assured — these babies are in good hands.

However, there is always a need for more foster parents. If you are interested in fostering, contact your state’s Child Welfare Services or a local foster care agency.

“What happens to babies abandoned at the hospital?”

It depends on the state. Many states will wait a period of time, in case the parent returns. After that point, it may be assumed that the parent is forfeiting their legal parental rights, in which the state (foster care) assumes custody of the baby until a permanent placement can be found.

Hospitals are generally not licensed to place children for adoption, so the hospital will contact a licensed adoption agency.

The most direct way for these babies to enter loving, permanent homes is by contacting an adoption agency. Even if you are in the hospital, about to give birth, or have recently given birth, you can still place your baby for adoption through an agency! This allows you full control over the process, including choosing your baby’s parents and more. When you abandon your baby at the hospital, you have no say in what happens to the baby.

“What happens when a baby is abandoned outside, like on a porch or in front of a building?”

When a baby is abandoned anywhere other than into the arms of an on-duty employee at a Safe Haven location, tragedy often occurs, especially if the baby is left outside. Time and again, babies have been left in unsafe (and illegal) locations, which led to injury or even the death of the baby, and the arrest of the parent.

These parents often did not know that private adoption was an option for them or that Safe Haven laws could protect both their child and themselves.

“What happens to abandoned babies if there is evidence of abuse, injury, or neglect?”

Parents are only protected under Safe Haven laws if the surrendered baby is unharmed. If there is evidence that the baby has been harmed, the parent could be criminally liable for that harm, which has serious legal consequences.

Parents are also not protected by Safe Haven laws if they leave their newborn anywhere other than a registered Safe Haven location, and they could be criminally liable for abandonment.

“Where do they put abandoned babies that are found? Is there an orphanage?”

When an abandoned baby is found alive, it is usually placed into foster care until a permanent placement can be found. There are no longer orphanages in the U.S., having long since been replaced by state foster care departments and private infant adoption agencies.

Instead, children are placed with either temporary foster families, or with permanent adoptive families.

“What happens to an abandoned American baby compared to babies abandoned in other countries?”

Some countries do still have orphanages or institutions. So, if an abandoned baby is found, these organizations may assume custody of the child until permanent adoptive parents can be found. In these countries, local families may not have the additional resources needed to temporarily provide for a foster child, or the country may not have the resources to screen foster/adoptive families thoroughly enough to ensure the safety of the child, and so the child is safest at the orphanage.

In the U.S., what happens to an abandoned baby will vary by state. Usually, the child will enter foster care, but the steps by which this is reached will be unique to each state.

Although the process of what happens to abandoned babies will vary from one country to the next (or, in the case of the U.S., from one state to the next), the goal is always the same: Secure the happiness and safety of children.

“What happens to you when you surrender a baby?”

You may be worried about what would happen to you if you were to surrender your baby to an adoption agency or to a Safe Haven staff member. What happens to you will all depend on whether you surrender your baby safely, versus abandon your baby somewhere.

Understand this: What happens if you abandon your baby is very different than what happens to you if you surrender your baby at a Safe Haven or to an adoption agency. If you abandon your baby somewhere other than a Safe Haven, you are criminally liable for child endangerment, neglect and abandonment, and you can face serious charges. If, however, you safely and legally surrender your baby at a Safe Haven or to an adoption agency, absolutely nothing happens to you.

So, although it is illegal to abandon a baby, it is 100% safe and legal to surrender your baby at a Safe Haven or to an adoption agency. If you contact an adoption agency now to surrender your baby, nothing will happen to you — you will never get in trouble for safely placing your baby for adoption.

“What happens if a mother surrenders baby without permission of the father?”

It’s best to contact an adoption agency with this question. They can give you advice based on your individual situation, and may be able to help you create an adoption plan, even without the baby’s father.

The Difference Between Completing a Private Infant Adoption Versus Abandoning a Baby

What happens to babies who are abandoned (even at Safe Havens) versus babies who are placed for adoption through an agency are two very different experiences — for the biological parents, for the adoptive parents and most of all, for the child.

Here are some of the key differences between abandoning an infant and placing him or her for adoption through a licensed agency:

  • Babies abandoned in unsafe conditions unfortunately tend to have tragic outcomes. Contacting an adoption agency is what is safest for your baby, and is a more responsible choice than leaving your child in an unsafe location.
  • Parents would be criminally liable for any harm that comes to a baby left in an unsafe location. Placing a baby for adoption through a licensed agency ensures the safety of the child, and the parents’ own legal safety.
  • It is 100% legal to place a baby for adoption through a licensed agency. Abandoning a child anywhere other than a Safe Haven is illegal.
  • When a parent abandons a child, they have no say in what happens to that baby. But when they work with an adoption agency to create an adoption plan for the baby, they can make all the decisions they want to, including choosing the baby’s parents, how much contact they’d like to have post-adoption and more. On the other hand, you don’t have to make any decisions you don’t want to. Your adoption agency will respect your wishes and can make these arrangements for you.
  • Birth parents receive no support or services when they abandon a baby. Through an adoption agency, they can receive free services like counseling, medical care (including covering the costs of childbirth) and even financial support.
  • Some women are worried about their anonymity, and so they abandon their baby. But adoption agencies keep all identifying information confidential — any information that is provided is intended to benefit the long-term health of the child.
  • Children who are abandoned usually enter foster care, where they may wait months or years for a permanent family. Children who are placed for adoption through a private agency are placed directly into their permanent family, usually chosen by the mother herself.

Many parents do not know about Safe Haven laws, or about the option of adoption. But understanding the difference between abandoning a baby and choosing adoption through an agency can change everything.

Need to Surrender a Baby? Here’s How to Do It Safely and Legally Right Now

Contact an adoption agency here. It’s 100% free, confidential, they’re available 24/7 and you’ll never get in trouble for choosing adoption over abandonment.

When you place your baby for adoption through an agency instead of abandoning him or her somewhere, you’ll never have to worry, “Where do abandoned babies go?” or “What happens to Safe Surrender babies?” You can know exactly where your baby is, and you can even choose his or her future family and place your baby directly into their arms. If you want to, you can watch your baby grow up with his or her family by choosing an open adoption. All of this is entirely up to you, and your comfort level.

Contacting an adoption agency is always the best choice if you feel that you must surrender your baby. It is always safer, more empowering (and more legally sound) than abandoning your baby, even if you surrender the baby to a Safe Haven.

Click here if you need to surrender your newborn.

Click here if you’re interested in adopting a child.