Parents Rush to Abandon Children Before Nebraska ‘Safe Haven’ Law Narrows
The law, which was created to give desperate parents a safe option for their children, has allowed some 33 drop-offs from around the country, including teens as old as 17. Because lawmakers could not agree on an appropriate cut-off age, the law simply says that parents can drop off their “children” without fear of prosecution. Now, lawmakers hope to amend the law to pertain only to infants up to 3 days old.
Lawmakers were set to convene this month, but the election period and high cost of holding a special session have slowed the process. The special session is set to take place in January, when the legislature reconvenes.
Neb. Gov. Dave Heineman said he could call a special session of the legislature incidents continue to occur before next year, but he said, “I’d prefer not to do that, given how close we are to January.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that many parents, aware that the law will likely change in January, are taking advantage of the looser restrictions by abandoning their teens now.
“Where am I going to get help if they change the law?” said one mother from Lincoln, Neb., who abandoned her 18-year-old daughter at a “safe haven” last weekend.
Out-of-state residents have also taken advantage of the law: in October, a woman drove from Georgia to leave her 12-year-old son at a hospital in Lincoln.
The Georgia mother, identified by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as Tysheema Brown, was quoted as saying that she “didn’t feel like I had any other choice” but to drive the boy 1,000 miles to Nebraska in hopes that officials there would enroll him at Boys Town, a well-known center for troubled youth.
After speaking with her son, Brown told the paper, “He’s doing fine. He’s not wanting to come back and wind up in a foster home.”
So far 20 teenagers, including six 17 year olds and six 15 year olds, have been abandoned since the Safe Haven law took effect, according to the latest AP report. Five of them came from out of state.
Gov. Heineman said, “This law has had serious, unintended consequences,” and State Sen. Mike Flood, the speaker of the legislature, indicated that at least 40 of the 49 legislators were prepared to change the wording of the law, according to The New York Times.
Of those abandoned, seven have diagnosed or suspected behavioral problems or mental illness, the paper reported. In one case, a father abandoned nine of his children after he was unable to care for them following his wife’s death last year.
Safe haven laws exist generally to provide parents with an alternative to aborting, or harmfully discarding children. Nebraska's is unlike any other states in that children up the the age of 18 can be legally left at hospitals.
According to the North Platte Bulletin, leaving a child at a hospital under the safe haven law doesn’t mean a parent can abandon all rights.
“There seems to be a misconception that when a child is dropped off at a hospital, the parents are absolved of responsibility. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Todd Landry, director of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services, in an interview with the Bulletin. “I am very concerned about the situations we’ve seen so far. I empathize with parents who aren’t sure where to turn, but I want to encourage those families to use other options before taking the drastic step of abandoning a child.”
The law means that a parent won’t be charged for abandonment, but abuse charges could still be filed if there is evidence to support them, Landry said.
A blogger called Marley Greiner wrote, “The casualties pile up in Nebraska,” on the site The Daily Bastardette. “While Nebraska’s children are ‘legally’ dumped by their parents at an alarming rate under this Draconian law, state legislators sit on their thumbs discounting and ignoring the damage to Nebraska children, families, and communities,” Greiner wrote.
Lauren Kniesly, who writes the blog Baby Love Child, said, “what I do know is that kids, particularly minors are going to internalize this and live with the Nebraska’s legislators’ social experimentation for the rest of their lives.”
“Child abandonment is evidence of a severely broken system. Passing the hard effects of that down to children, those least able to cope with such is nothing less than a cowardly shirking of duty,” Kniesly said.
Others had criticized the law before it took effect. At the blog Bad Breeders, Trench Reynolds said the Nebraska law was the “most vague” of the widely varying state laws. “There needs to be a federally uniform safe haven law since the states can’t seem to get it together and for the most part have not prevented baby dumpings,” Reynolds wrote.
A group called Bastard Nation argues that safe haven laws, while trying to protect babies from being abandoned and possibly killed, “strip the infant of all genetic, medical and social history.” That’s just one problem the group cites with safe haven laws, which they say are unnecessary. Bastard Nation is an “organization dedicated to the equal treatment and dignity of all adopted citizens.”