Safe haven

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nebraska legislators adopted a safe-haven law this year that was supposed to protect newborns who otherwise might be dumped in the trash or endangered in other ways by mothers who don't want them. Every other state has such a law, but Nebraska was the only one without an age limit.

When Nebraska passed its law, 13 states -- including Missouri -- provided safe haven to infants 30 days old or younger. Under the safe haven law, infants can be left at hospitals without facing prosecution for child abandonment or other offenses. Because Nebraska did not set an age limit, it quickly became a haven for abandoning children of all ages. Indeed, since the law went into effect in July, 35 children up to the age of 17 were left at hospitals in the Cornhusker State -- none of them infants.

Parents left their children for a number of reasons, but many cited the lack of public services that might help them to cope with some of the severe problems ranging from medical conditions to behavioral problems.

Nebraska's legislature, in an emergency action, has set a 30-day age limit for its safe haven law. The new limit went into effect last week. Legislators say they will consider what can be done to help parents of older children.

For the most part, public and private services exist for the parents of children with serious problems. The Nebraska situation demonstrates a disconnect between the services being provided and the parents' ability to access them or know about them.

Finding ways to promote these options should be the goal of every state. Five of the children taken to Nebraska hospitals were from other states as far away as Florida and Michigan.

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