Recently Nebraska passed a new safe haven law that allows any adult to leave any minor at a hospital for any reason without any potential retribution for abandoning the child. As it happens, two women decided to use the law, both during the same weekend:
Two boys ages 15 and 11 were left at Nebraska hospitals over the weekend, the first youngsters surrendered under the state’s new safe-haven law that allows caregivers to abandon children and teens as well as infants, officials said.
A 44-year-old woman dropped off her teenage nephew at Lincoln’s BryanLGH Medical Center West on Saturday, saying the boy had behavioral problems that she couldn’t handle anymore, Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said. The woman is the boy’s legal guardian.
The other boy was left at Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha on Saturday, said Alegent Health spokeswoman Kelly Grinnell.
The 11-year-old was dropped off by his mother, who said she believed she could no longer care for him, said Todd Landry, who heads the Department of Health and Human Services’ division of children and family services.
The two cases are the first uses of the state’s safe-haven law, Landry said. Neither case produced suspicion of child abuse or neglect and neither child appeared to be in immediate danger, he said.
Whether the children were victims of abuse remains to be seen. Despite the claim that law protects abused children, neither the submitted bill or approved law makes any mention of potential prosecution for those who abandon children who are suspected victims of abuse. The law is so broadly written that technically speaking it does allow for adult’s to abandon abused children without any fear of prosecution. Of course, the state does reserve the right to prosecute if they want to, but in instances where the child is too young to know the adult’s name there would no way of tracking the adult because the law allows the adults to remain anonymous.
However, the greater issue with this is the notion that a parent has the right to simply throw away their children. Senator Arnie Stuthman’s heart may have been in the right place, but the broadness of the law allows for the above abuse. That is what it is, particularly when one considers the emotional impact these boys will face from having the people who are supposed to care about them essentially demonstrate that they do not really care at all.
Some will say there are extenuating circumstances. That may very well be true. However, in instances like these it would be better for the state to simply provide assistance to the legal guardians and reserve the termination of legal custody only in the most extreme circumstances.
Of course, the irony of the situation is difficult to miss. Had these two people been men, they likely would not have been allowed to simply walk away, despite the law in having some gender-neutral language. In fact, when men who do not want to take care of their children do just up and leave, often leaving the children with the mother, the men are chased down and forced to pay child support or they will face prison time. However, Nebraska now allows for women who cannot or do not want to raise their children to simply throw them away with no regard and no potential prosecution for child abandonment.
To be fair, I am slightly biased on this subject. I am around foster children all time, so I constantly see the affect of being abandoned. I also see how willing the state is to let instances of abuse slide for the sake of taking the child. I also see instances of how both the state and legal guardians (whether parents or otherwise) shuffle children in and out of the system when it best suits them with literally no regard for the impact that has on the child. So to see two cases where it is quite possible that the issues that drove these women to throw away the boys could have been managed had the state stepped in and worked with them rather than offering the women an easy way out is beyond frustrating.
So my suggestion for Senator Stuthman is that the next time you decide to author a bill, be more specific with your wording.