Nebraska's Safe Haven Law

Slipping in to the headlines amidst stories about the economy and the upcoming election is coverage about Nebraska’s controversial Safe Haven Law. While all 50 states now have some form of a Safe Haven Law (only Washington D.C. does not have a Safe Haven provision), Nebraska is attracting national attention because it is the only state that allows parents to give up any "child" under 18. All other states allow parents to leave their infants with government agencies without fear of prosecution.

 
Since 1999, a movement arose nationwide to combat increasing cases of infant abandonments across the U.S.  Safe Haven laws were created to allow an adult to anonymously relinquish a baby into the hands of a responsible adult, in most cases at hospitals, police stations or fire stations, without fear of reprisal or prosecution. Nebraska is now experiencing many older children being abandoned, some with serious behavior or mental issues and some from other states, which in turn is rousing much controversy from lawmakers and child advocacy workers. 
 
Here are some quotes from various lawmakers and child advocacy workers in Nebraska that highlight the multiple underlying issues of their state’s law:
 
"Safe haven legislation is designed to prevent infants from being left outside or left unattended," said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinman. "Safe haven laws were not designed to allow families having difficulty with older youth and teenagers to abandon their children or responsibilities as parents."
 
Karen Authier, director of Nebraska Children's Center believes that there is a lack of mental health services for parents. "What this law has brought to the forefront is that there are families who are desperate enough that they want to give up their parenting role. The state…..opened Pandora's box."
 
Nebraska State Senator Arnie Stuthman, co-author of the bill, said, "This has exploded in our face," and had originally wanted the law to apply only to infants but agreed to expand it to apply to all children.
 
Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said the law should continue to apply to all children. "I don't think the law is causing problems -- the problem is out there," he said. "The law is in fact just highlighting what is out there. These family issues need to be addressed."
 
I am left with the question:  How do you write a law that best serves the needs of children while at the same time helping parents if they truly need assistance being a parent?
 
What do you think about Nebraska’s Safe Haven Law? If you were to help amend the law, what changes would you implement?
 
For more information on Safe Haven laws across the country, visit The National Safe Haven Alliance.

 

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