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Fixed But Still Broken

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safe-havenRecently Nebraska amended its controversial Safe Haven Law, after it led to alarming consequences reflecting a shortcoming in social services resources.  The law at issue (Legislative Bill 157 or LB 157) permitted parents to leave children up to 17 years old with a state hospital without facing criminal liability.  Since the law went into effect in September 2008, 35 children were abandoned at hospitals across the state:  the majority of them were at least 11 years old, and many of them were afflicted with substantial behavioral conditions.  Furthermore, parents from outside the state traveled to Nebraska to leave their children in the state’s care. 

Nebraska’s amended law, which contains an age limit of 30 days old, now conforms to nationwide norms as well as the purpose behind safe haven laws.  Safe haven laws were enacted to protect young children from immediate danger, not as a way to deal with misbehaving or difficult children.

Questions have been raised as to what will happen to the 35 children who were abandoned during the time when LB 157 was in effect.  Under LB 157, parents cannot be prosecuted for abandonment by leaving their children at a licensed Nebraska hospital; yet, these parents could face other charges and consequences.

For example, if authorities discover that a child was subjected to abuse or neglect before being left with the state, County Attorneys have the choice to file charges.  Additionally, parents who abandoned their children will not be free from all parenting responsibility.  Courts regularly make parents to take parenting classes, participate in therapy, and engage in conflict resolution education – all in an effort to eventually reunite with their children.  Moreover, parents may need to pay child support while their children are in state custody. 

Although Nebraska’s simplest option (a.k.a. LB 157) is no longer available to parents, this is probably a good thing – so long as other resources are offered and made easily accessible.  If not, however, children face the very real prospect of neglect, abuse, or worse.  Some may claim that parents shouldn’t be able to hand off their parental responsibilities to the state, but if social services are not made available, innocent children – and ultimately society at large – suffers.  Therefore, authorities should make parents aware of their options, and not be judgmental when they seek help. 

For now, parents can get state assistance by calling social services, 211, or local United Way organizations.  Parents can also visit their local DHHS office online.  Various resources within the community, including parent support groups, crisis hotlines, faith-based organizations, and treatment centers, can be helpful.  Finally, parents may contact law enforcement after exhausting other options, or if other options are simply not feasible.

Ken LaMance

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