Family and Relationships

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More Children and Teens Abandoned Under Nebraska’s ‘Safe Haven’ Law

September 25, 2008 03:40 PM
by Emily Coakley
Eleven more children were abandoned at “Safe Haven” hospitals in Nebraska Wednesday, including nine siblings, as state officials scramble to clarify the new law.
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A father left his nine children at Creighton Medical Center Wednesday, and because of the state’s new “safe haven” law, which had been criticized as too expansive, he won’t be charged for abandonment. The children ranged in age from 1 to 17, reports the Omaha World-Herald. At least three other children have been left at Nebraska hospitals this month.

Safe haven laws give parents the legal ability to transfer custody of a child to the state by abandoning them at approved facilities. They exist generally to provide parents with an alternative to aborting, or harmfully discarding children.

Nebraska’s safe haven law took effect earlier this summer. Several other states have similar laws that apply only to infants, but Nebraska’s version allows parents to abandon children up to age 19, according to the Indianapolis Star.

State officials have been clarifying the law, and scheduled a press conference Thursday to discuss the matter. 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 safe haven law means a parent won’t be charged for abandonment, but abuse charges could still be filed if there is evidence to support them, Landry said.

When the first children were dropped off under the new law, a state senator who advocated for the law, Rich Pahls, had this reaction to the situation: “It tells me that there are some parents or guardians out there that need some help. If you look at the larger picture we need to take a look at mental health.”

Earlier this month, Pahls and another senator said if more adolescents and older children are affected, they’ll try to alter the law so it only applies to infants.

Opinion & Analysis: Perspectives on ‘baby dumping’

When the first two boys were abandoned under the new Nebraska law, a blogger known as Kite Kamp Girl, who described herself as an adoptee, said she feels for the boys.

 

“This is horrible. Shame on Nebraska lawmakers. Instead of safe havening of these kids, why wasn't there better options for these parents and guardians? Oh that is right. We can't have anyone taking advantage of the system.”

 

Before the law took effect, others had criticized it.


The Daily Bastardette said, “no fault baby dumping = the new adoption,” and encouraged everyone to mock the law by taking advantage of it. “President Grant once said ‘the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it.’ With this is mind I offer an open invitation to all frustrated, tired, angry disgusted parents, wherever you are: take your unpleasant child in hand, hop in your car or on Greyhound (or a plane if TSA will let the delinquent through), and head for America’s heartland. Make Nebraska the child dump capital of America,” she wrote.

Michael Barrett, writing as Slobokan on Slobokan’s Site O’ Schtuff, said parents had a way out.

“Gone are the days of ‘doing the responsible thing,’ or living up to the expectations of society. Society (in Nebraska anyway) no longer requires you to fulfill your obligation as a parent,” Barrett wrote.

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.”

Reference: Other safe haven laws; parenting help

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