A few days ago, Nebraska ammended its Safe Haven Law, so that it applied only to babies 30 days old or less. Originally when Nebraska enacted its Safe Haven Law, it neglected to specify an age limit, because the legislators did not think it necessary. No one could possibly forsee parents leaving older children and teenagers at hospitals because they could no longer care for them.
The original law was enacted in July and since then 35 children have been abandoned at area hospitals, none of whom were babies. In fact, the majority of kids left by their parents were over 11 years old! Clearly, something is going on here. Many are quick to jump on the adults. Alledging bad parenting, irresponsibility and cruelty. However, I think we need to dig deeper than that.
It takes a lot to drive a parent to the point of relinquishing their child over to state custody. Many of the parents who utilized this law say their kids had mental illnesses that they could no longer deal with at home. A few claimed they did not feel safe living in close proximity to thier out of control teenager, and some thought that leaving their child in state care would be the only way to get them the help they truly needed. After all what is a parent with limited economic resources supposed to do with a seriously mentally ill or troubled child?
I do not advocate the abandonment of children. In fact I think this points to a new low in our society. However, I am not as quick as some to demonize the parents. Instead, I place fault on the state. Nebraska (and all states) need to get hip to the fact that mental illnesses require extensive (and expensive) treatment. This may include therapy, hospitalization and medication. If families cannot afford to treat their children on their own then there should be state departments to help them facilitate this. Often times, insurance companies wont recognize and cover mental illnesses, and thus financially strapped families run up against a terrifying wall. How can a parent watch thier child deteriorate and do nothing? These parents who utilized the Nebraska Safe Haven law (many driving great distances from other states) were desperate. They felt they had no other choice.
The recent Safe Haven “crisis” in Nebraska revealed the ugly truth of what often occurs behind closed doors. States need to provide resouces and support for families dealing with difficult kids. Obviously, facilitating abandonment is not the answer, but maybe a better child services department is. Perhaps states across the US could band together and provide support networks and services for these families. Clearly if Nebraska has taught us anything, it’s that we need a better emotional support system in this country. That it is not only our finances that are suffering; our families are in peril too.