"Safe Haven" in Nebraska Leads to Abandoned Children
Special Report - October 10, 2008
Nebraska’s controversial “safe haven” law that essentially allows parents to abandon children of any age at hospitals without facing criminal penalty is getting national attention, after more than a dozen older children, including a teenager from Iowa, have been abandoned at hospitals around the state since September. In February, Nebraska became the last of 50 states to pass a “safe haven” law, which aims to protect unwanted infants by allowing their parents to surrender them to authorities at designated “safe havens,” such as hospitals. The law, which took effect in July, is the only “safe haven” law in the nation without an age limit for an abandoned child. While the “safe haven” laws of every other state, including North Carolina, specifically state that the law applies to infants (exact ages vary by state), Nebraska’s law uses the word “child,” which under state law applies to any minor under age 18. Since the law took effect, at least 18 older children have been abandoned by their parents in the state, including a 14-year-old girl from Iowa who was left at Nebraska hospital.
In a letter to Nebraskans published in the Omaha-World Herald on October 7, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman encouraged parental responsibility and said he would lead efforts to change the state’s “safe haven” law to ensure that it only applies to infants. “Safe haven laws were not designed to allow families having difficulty with older youth and teenagers to abandon their children or responsibilities as parents,” Governor Heineman wrote. He also encouraged Nebraskan families in crisis to utilize the various state and private social service programs available to help them.
North Carolina’s “safe haven” law was enacted in 2001 and allows a parent to “confidentially” surrender an infant up to seven days old without prosecution to any designated “safe haven center,” such as a police department, hospital or fire station, or to specific individuals, including police officers and social workers. The North Carolina Family Policy Council was one of several pro-life groups to express concerns about the “safe haven” law on the grounds that it would encourage irresponsible behavior and could be abused. Many adoption advocates also opposed infant abandonment laws, including the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which in a 2003 report, argued that the laws often have “unintended consequences,” including encouraging child abandonment and discouraging adoption.
“Few individuals ever envisioned the kinds of issues now facing Nebraska as a result of that state’s ‘safe haven’ law,” said John Rustin, director of government relations for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “This is, however, a perfect example of the unintended consequences caused by a well-meaning but misguided public policy that allows the mother of a child to simply abandon that child and walk away with no strings attached,” Rustin continued. “Streamlining the adoption process and promoting adoption as the responsible and loving option that it is, would better serve these children, their parents and society as a whole.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.