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Fire stations, including this one in Lafayette, on March 15, 2019, are designated sites under Colorado's Safe Haven Law, which says a parent can drop off a baby within 72 hours of birth without fear of child abandonment charges. Infants must be handed to an employee. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

The recent arrest of a young Highlands Ranch woman whose dead newborn baby was found hidden in her home — the second newborn murder case in Colorado in the past four months — underscores the reasons behind Colorado’s rarely used “Safe Haven” law. 

The law, passed in 2000 after similar cases involving young mothers, allows people to drop off an infant at a fire station or hospital within 72 hours of birth — no questions asked. But even after a follow-up law in 2019 that requires sex education classes to include information about Safe Haven, the law is not well known, or at least is hardly used. 

In 2020, just three newborns were given away under the law, according to data from the state human services department. Four babies each in 2019 and 2018 were brought to fire stations and hospitals around the state. 

A Highlands Ranch woman, now 20, was booked into the Douglas County Jail last week and accused of killing her newborn about a year earlier, on Sept. 28, 2020. Peyton Green went to the hospital after the birth for a “medical emergency,” according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and a nurse recognized that she had just had a baby but did not have a newborn with her. Authorities soon found the dead infant at her home. 

A yearlong investigation resulted in Green’s arrest in Wyoming on Sept. 30. She was booked into the Douglas County jail last week on a charges of murder, tampering with a body and attemping to influence a public servant. 

The case is similar to an El Paso County case announced by authorities in June. 

An El Paso County woman was charged with murdering her newborn after concealing the pregnancy by wearing a restrictive, slimming undergarment. Amy Grace Carr, who was 18 at the time, gave birth at home in January, strangled the baby girl and then buried her body on her family’s property in Edison, investigators alleged in court records. The ground was frozen, so the grave was shallow, and Carr’s family found the body a few days later. 

When Carr’s mother called authorities, she said she didn’t know of anyone who was pregnant, according to court records. By retrieving Carr’s deleted Snapchat conversations with her boyfriend, investigators learned the baby had been born alive and that Carr said she strangled her.

Investigators also found evidence that Carr searched the internet and purchased items she thought could cause a miscarriage, including red raspberry leaf tea and castor oil. 

The two tragic cases emphasize the need for greater awareness about Colorado’s Safe Haven law, which allows a parent to drop off a newborn with no repercussions, said James Connell, a child abuse and neglect intake administrator at the state Division of Child Welfare. 

“We really want to let parents know that they have support and they have options,” he said. “This is here as the last safety net for them.” 

The law also allows a woman to give birth at a hospital and then relinquish the newborn to the hospital. 

The person handing over the baby — a parent, family member, social worker or minister — doesn’t have to put anything in writing. They can walk away without a signature. They must give the baby to a person — not leave the infant on a doorstep — and say they do not intend to return.

Since the law was passed in 2000, about 70 newborns have been turned over to authorities. About half of those babies were brought to fire stations, while about half were born in hospitals.

Babies brought to hospitals or fire stations are given physical exams, and authorities call child protective services to pick up the infant. The baby enters the county child welfare system, same as a child who was removed from their biological parents because of abuse and neglect. Caseworkers will try to place the baby with foster parents who are interested in adoption, since it’s unlikely someone will show up to contest an adoption.

Child welfare workers begin pursuing a termination of parental rights for the infant, a court process that typically still takes months even when no parent is contesting.

A parent who gives up a baby under the Safe Haven Law is relinquishing their parental rights, and under the law, cannot come back for the baby a few weeks or months later. Nor is the parent entitled to any information about the baby.

An advocacy group called Colorado Safe Haven for Newborns formed in response to the deaths of three infants in the summer of 2004, four years after it became legal to bring newborns to fire stations and hospitals. The group pushed the legislature in 2019 to pass a law requiring any sex education course to instruct young people about how to give up a baby under the Safe Haven law. The group noted that when the original Safe Haven law was passed in 2000, today’s teenagers were not yet born.

Jen is a co-founder and reporter at The Sun, where she writes about mental health, child welfare and social justice issues.

Her first journalism job was at The Hungry Horse News in her home state of Montana, before moving on to reporting jobs in Texas and Oklahoma. She worked for 13 years at The Denver Post, including several years on the investigative projects team, before helping create The Sun in 2018.

Jen is a graduate of the University of Montana and loves hiking, skiing and watching her kids' sports.

Email: Twitter: @jenbrowncolo