In the last 2 months, twenty children, including 3 from outside Nebraska, have been abandoned in hospitals under the state’s Safe Haven Law. The youngest of these children was 22 months, the oldest 17 years old.
The latest child to be abandoned in a Nebraska hospital was driven there by his mother from Atlanta, Georgia!(1)
Safe Haven laws have been enacted in all states to reduce the number of newborn infants abandoned in places such as trash dumpsters, public restrooms, and other unsavory places. The premise of these laws is that parents can take their newborn to a hospital, fire station, police station, and not be prosecuted.
Nebraska’s law doesn’t have an age limit, though the idea was it would also be for infants. The bill went into effect in July, but wasn’t used until September when two teens were dropped off at hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln. According to Lincoln JournalStar:
The bill was intended to be used for infants, but no child under 20 months old has been abandoned since the law took effect.
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood and Gov. Dave Heineman said this week most senators believe the law should be amended to apply only to infants up to 3 days old.(2)
That’s all well and good, but what about the twenty children who have been dropped off so far? What do stressed out parents tell their kids? Behave or I’ll drive you to Nebraska?
Legislators in Nebraska missed the boat on this one, IMHO. How screwed up are these kids, especially the ones who are old enough to understand what happened to them, going to be as they become adults? Personally, I think any parent who is so overwhelmed that the only thing they can think of is abandoning their child(ren) needs to have some counseling, parenting classes, and be monitored by their state’s social services department. There are other resources that parents can take before taking a drastic step like abandonment.(3)
Any restructuring of this law should take place BEFORE another child, teen or preteen is abandoned in a Nebraska hospital. There is help, and there are places to go. In an article in the Kansas City Star dated October 20th:
Heineman has authorized Health and Human Services to spend up to $100,000 promoting a help line for parents and guardians operated by United Way. If it is flooded with calls, up to $200,000 in state money could be used to add phone lines.
The state is also sending letters to all adoptive parents and guardians of children who are former state wards. The letter provides phone numbers and Web sites of agencies that can help them if they are having problems with their children.
The letter also suggests parents contact Boys Town, an Omaha home for troubled youths that for decades has taken in children who are having problems.(4)
I hope that the legislature in Nebraska acts soon before another child is abandoned by an overwhelmed parent.
That’s all from where I sit.
(1) (2) “Georgia boy left in Lincoln is latest safe haven case” Lincoln JournalStar, http://www.journalstar.com, 26 October 2008, article accessed 26 October 2008.
(3) “Boy, 12, is latest safe-haven dropoff” Lincoln JournalStar, http://www.journalstar.com, 6 October 2008, article accessed 26 October 2008.
(4) “Nebraska lawmakers agree on safe-haven age limit” Kansas City Star, http://www.kansascity.com, 20 October 2008, article accessed 26 October 2008