The great state of Nebraska was the last state of the union to sign what became the most comprehensive child safe haven law in America. In most states, the law specifies that an infant can be left at a “safe-haven” – usually meaning a hospital or a fire department…somewhere the child will get immediate attention – without the parent having to suffer any legal ramifications. Since the law took effect in July, some twenty-three children have been brought to safe-havens…some across state lines.
Obviously, this idea came about as a means of saving lives. The thought was that now people who might toss their babies into dumpsters or abuse them would have the opportunity to save their lives by putting them in the care of responsible people. From here, appropriate child care would be found through adoptions or the care of appropriate and willing relatives. I always thought this was a great idea.
I had fits hearing criticism that this is abandonment or passing on responsibility. Children in the hands of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol, suffering from various mental illnesses and overwhelmed, barely functional and generally desperate, or simply unwilling are at great risk – and if even one of them has the compassion and good sense to make use of a safe-haven…then we have saved a life…not only from death…but from abuse and a childhood leading only to troubles and problems.
Society is always better off when unwanted children have opportunities with adoptive families, quality foster-families, or placement with relatives who might not even have known there was a problem. These children will have a better chance to grow up more adjusted, and that will obviously minimize bad “acting out” (sexual or criminal variety) or substance abuse to quell emotional pain.
Unfortunately, because of criticism aimed at parents who take advantage of protecting their children rather than harming them, the Governor of Nebraska, Dave Heinemen, is calling a special session of the legislature to change the state’s unique safe-haven law – amending it so that it applies only to infants up to 3 days old. I believe this is a HUGE mistake.
The communications office of the Governor prepared a statement for all Nebraskans explaining his point of view. “Children from eight families have been left at hospitals under the safe haven law. None of the children involved were infants and one was in immediate danger. Courts are likely to require parents and guardians to participate in parenting classes, family therapy, conflict resolution or other services in an effort to reunite youth with their families.”
I’m delighted that the Governor points out that there are services that MIGHT…only might…eliminate the necessity for the safe-haven – but very often, parental termination might be in the best interest of children of any age.
The Governor points out that safe haven laws were not designed to allow families having difficulty with older youth and teenagers to “abandon their children or responsibilities as parents.” Well, some parents just can’t or won’t be responsible…and abandonment would be to throw them out of the house…not deliver them to people who can help.
The Governor further suggests that parents considering safe-haven might turn to local health and human services offices…well, sometimes those are not as available or supportive or empowered to remedy a desperately difficult situation.
While I support his concern about protecting infants in danger…they are not the only children who need such protection.
I hope Nebraska keeps its child safe haven law and doesn’t dilute it down to 3-day newborns.