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Nebraska's Open-Ended 'Safe-Haven' Law Leads Families to Abandon Teens

By October 14, 2008

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How desperate would a mother have to be to drive 12 hours straight - across several states - to dump her 13-year-old son in a state that offers safe haven and no prosecution of parents who abandon their children?

A Nebraska law which went into effect in July allows caregivers to leave a child at a state-certified hospital without fear of prosecution. Other states with 'safe-haven' laws had infants less than a year old in mind when similar legislation was crafted. But in Nebraska, the word 'child' was used to avoid assigning an age limit; thus, any minor under the age of 19 is considered a child.

Because of this unexpected loophole, significantly older children including teens have been abandoned in Nebraska in alarming numbers. The most widely-reported story involved a father who left his nine kids, ages 1-17.

Until recently, the abandoned children were all Nebraska residents. But now families are crossing state lines to dump offspring. Last week, an out-of-state 14-year-old girl was dropped off by her grandparents at a hospital in Omaha. Yesterday, a Detroit, Michigan woman left her son at the same hospital.

As the Omaha World-Herald reports:

The family likely found out about the Nebraska law through news coverage of the safe haven law. The law - and the mounting number of families making use of it - has drawn national and international attention....

This is the 11th time the haven law has been used. The Michigan teen is the 19th child left at a hospital or, in one case, a police station by people intending to make use of the law. Most of the children left have been teens and preteens. None of the cases has involved an infant.


October 14, 2008 at 9:05 am
(1) whiteknyght says:

While this may seem shocking in our post-modern, post-nuclear family world where all values seem created fully formed sometime in 1950 with “Leave to Beaver” and de-evolve from there, there were times when this was not unheard of… nor seen as a thing that would be seen as a moral failing on the parents’ part.

Children or all ages were often sent off to other relatives or even orphanages simply because their families were either not there, nor could not support them.


This is perhaps just another canary in the mineshaft of just how tight and tense our world – especially financially – is becoming.

If anything… these laws should be universal across the country.

October 14, 2008 at 1:52 pm
(2) anothermom says:

I hope NE does not change their law to limit the protection to babies under age one.

Obviously there is a huge problem here. But instead of addressing the need, the talk is just to change the law so these older children will not be protected. What kind of sense does that make?

October 21, 2008 at 10:57 pm
(3) Shirley says:

I applaud Nebraska and challenge other states to come to the aid of children. Not everyone should have children. Not everyone should keep the children they have. This is a better solution than the awful tales of beatings, deprivation, imprisonment and murder that regularly surface because parents didn’t have a viable option and went under. It takes a village to raise a child. How about we all put our names forward to authorities and offer to look after abandoned children instead of just saying how awful their parents are. Many of us have a spare room or bed, let’s be part of the solution, not just tut-tutting bystanders.

November 3, 2008 at 3:20 pm
(4) Sky says:

The reason that teens are being dropped off is because they can be a real pain in the ass to deal with. The teens have been raised without discipline and there are few alternatives for parents to deal with difficult teens. Today, teens believe they can do as they please–”just try to stop me!”

Problem teens hang with friends who challenge each other to be ever more defiant. Corporal punishment, so effective in the past, is no longer a viable option. With very little repercussions, teens expand the envelop into ever more defiant activity. Even skipping school is no longer a problem for the teen to deal with, but rather parents are held accountable. Parents’ hands are tied as they must continue to provide clothing, food, shelter and other necessities without the teens feeling any need for reciprocity.

When these teens reach the age of majority, where they can be kicked out of the home, they will be in for a rude awakening because employers will not tolerate such behavior.

We need an alternative so that teens get an early dose of the consequences of their actions–before they hit the streets at 18.

November 25, 2008 at 3:21 pm
(5) Gina says:

I can’t believe people are applauding children being dumped for ANY reason by their parents! These are your children – whom you are supposed to unconditionally love. There are programs out there to help needy families and even to help abusive parents with anger-management or counseling for probelm teens. I think it is incredibly life-ruining for these children to be abandoned – what does that teach them about themselves and the world?

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