September 17, 2008

This Just Doesn't Sit Right

I'm assume most people reading here know what safe haven laws are and how they work. Most states put limits on the age of a child that can be legally abandoned, say 72 hours or 30 days. Nebraska, perhaps feeling out of sorts for being the last state to enact such a statute, decided that it would go all the way and set the limit at 19. As in 19 years. In Nebraska, you can take your teenage kid to a hospital, turn him or her over and walk away the same day with few questions asked.

I don't want to get into a debate about the efficacy or philosophy of safe haven laws (this Donaldson report is an interesting read). And I absolutely do not want to vilify people who use them. But even laying all that aside, I can't fathom what Nebraska's legislators were possibly thinking. Abdicating yourself of responsibility for a child who is old enough to find her own way back home should be a more difficult process than, say, returning a sweater, for pete's sake.

When the Nebraska law went into effect this summer, a lot of the folks I talked to thought the age limit was strange, but figured it would probably still be used mostly for infants in practicality. Well, it was used for the first time this week, in two separate occasions. And the kids dropped off? Two boys ages 11 and 15. In a kicker for the adoption community, the adults involved were an adoptive mom (kinship adoption) and an aunt who was acting as a legal guardian. Making this at least the second time each of these boys has lost a maternal figure. In both cases, behavioral issues were cited--everyone seems to agree that the kids weren't in any immediate danger.

I just don't know how anyone who cares about the emotional health of these kids can think a law that allows this is a good idea. Even if the courts eventually do decide that it's best for them to be in a different home, the manner in which they were allowed to be abandoned is deeply troubling. We as a society need to value our kids--no matter their ages--enough to make such dramatic changes to their lives with seriousness and deliberation.


Meg Weber Jeske said...

This totally doesn't sit right. What were the lawmakers thinking?!

I agree that these laws are important, but there must be a more logical, thought out age limit.

Lori said...

Those poor boys! I'm sure it's incredibly difficult to parent children with significant behavioral issues but how can we hope that they'll behave any better after losing another set of parents? And how could lawmakers not anticipate this type of issue?

Heather.PNR said...

@meg - This is such a tough issue. I'm not 100% opposed, but I'm also not a huge proponent of safe haven laws, at least not the way a lot of them are currently written. And, sadly, the evidence is shaky as to what extent they've actually reduced infanticide or unsafe abandonment.

@lori - Exactly--I don't see how this helps the kids. I get that there are situations so extreme that children can't stay with their families. I really, really do. Yet when a parent is saying they're in one of those situations, I think the community ought to do more than shrug its shoulders and take their word for it. Which is essentially what this law does.

m de p said...

This is just WILD! Really, I can't imagine how lawmakers came to this decision. What were they basing their decision on? In an ideal world there would be more support for parents in difficult situations (all kinds of situations, all ages of children, including parents considering making an adoption plan); places for them to seek supportive, non-judgemental help.

Marie said...

Our society has so many disturbing issues.

Min said...

Oh, I'm so sad for those children.

I can (personally) understand the reasoning behing safe haven for newborns, but for children up to 19??...that's obscene.

Portraits In Sepia said...

Ok, now that just about trumps anything my crappy parents ever did. I just couldn't believe what I was reading. So, at any point during a child's life the parents can just drop them off and be done with them? Unbelievable. I still can't believe it.

All Rileyed Up said...

This is a serious post, but I have to admit - I burst out laughing at your comparison to returning a sweater.

Mrs Woggie said...

I don't know if we have those laws over here, but it sounds like Nebraska has taken this not quite as seriously as they possibly should have. 19 seems a little "old"

Here from ICLW.

junebug said...

Appalled is the word that comes to mind for me.

Appalled that Nebraska thought this was a good idea.
Appalled that it was actually used.
Appalled that people who would use a law like that were actually gifted with children to begin with.

Devil's Advocate: On the other hand, in my line of work of parenting/nutrition/anger management/domestic violence classes for those court ordered, I often see them after it is way too late and they have permanently damaged the children. Ideally if the system worked and there were plenty of good homes for the children to go to for healing instead of being stuck in a cruel, inhumane system it might save lives.

Here from ICLW.

Kristin said...

That is totally against the original intention of those laws. I feel so sorry for those boys.


Cara said...

Amen and AMEN to your definitive conclusion. The ethically unfair feeling between US (those who want our children but will never get to have them) and THEM (those who CHOOSE to leave theirs - however they became theirs - behind) will never resolve, but this is ridiculous.

(oh I'm on MY soapbox)

I'll stop there, but thank you for the public service announcement!


Beautiful Mess said...

*New reader* WOW what a post to read on my first visit to your blog. It made me angry and sad. I totally understand why those laws are in effect, but 19 years old?! That's not right. Those poor boys, I can't believe that! I just can't see how one can drop off a child, no matter how badly they behave..sickening..

bendingbackwards said...

WHAT WERE THESE PEOPLE THINKING? I am so sorry to hear about the boys.

Here from ICLW.

Michelle said...

I am just stunned and really have no words to say how utterly ridiculous this is. People in Nebraska need to write their law makers and get this changed. What were they thinking. I mean come on, really?

Mindi said...

If you've been following this story at all you've probably heard that this past week a dad dropped off his 9 - yes NINE, children ages 1-17 because he couldn't take care of them anymore. Now the family is coming out of the woodwork and they're trying to get the kids back. This isn't what the Safe Haven law is about people. Apparently his wife has died, his house is in forclosure and the utilities have been turned off. So... In the long run, maybe for the younger children this would have been an option because if the dad goes to live on the street with the kids, they're going to be taken away anyway, but really...? A 17 year old. She wrote in her shcool newspaper last year that she was basically parenting the younger kids since her mom had passed away. I feel so sorry for this girl, I'd love to take her home with me and let her be a teenager for pete's sake.

Mindi said...

And another thing... I'm sorry I'm just so angry about this... I hope the lawmakers pull their heads out of their nether regions and change the law this year. I'm embarrassed to be associated with Nebraska some times.

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