The great state of Nebraska is learning the hard way — in vicious examples — of the dire importance of precision in the law.  The Cornhusker State is dealing with the humiliating dumping of teenagers under their new “Safe Haven” — a law written so broadly that any minor child is eligible for abandonment into state care — without any legal or financial repercussion for the parent or custodian.


Nebraska was the last of 50 states to enact a “Safe Haven” law — laws intended to protect unwanted infants by allowing parents to drop off an infant at any firehouse, police station or hospital with no questions asked — but since Nebraska did not set a 72-hour, or even one-year, cutoff date for protection, any minor child under 19 is eligible for the abandonment.

On September 13, a 15-year-old boy was dumped at BryanLGH Medical Center in Lincoln and an 11-year-old boy was left at Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha.

On September 20, a 13-year-old girl was dropped off at Immanuel.

How does something like this happen? 

When you’re in last place in adopting a state law to protect unwanted babies, you’d think Nebraska would’ve learned from the trials and triumphs of the other 49 states and then crafted the best “Safe Haven” law in the nation.

Instead of creating the greatest Safe Haven law, Nebraska created the cruelest.

How terrible must it feel, at age 15, to be abandoned by your family?

I’m sure the Nebraska Unicameral never, in their wildest nightmares, ever thought a parent would exploit the Safe Haven law and expand it beyond infancy and into near-adulthood.

Twenty years ago, that would not have happened — because back then Nebraska was a different place where the spirit of the law was honored and not just its hard letter.

Nebraska lost its innocence across those two decades.  Nebraska is no longer the “we are one, we are the same” state it once was. 

Nebraska is now filled with color and immigrants and religions beyond the Christian mainstream and the state, in its entirety, is much better off for the integration of varied ideas, values and moralities.

The problem with that change in the populace is the lily-White Unicameral was caught unaware of the change in dynamic social memes swirling beyond the golden, intellectual, havens of Lincoln and Omaha.

Is the Devil in the details?  Or is God in the details?

The great state of Nebraska knows the hard answer to that question and they better quickly pick up saber and scythe to sow a better Safe Haven for newborns — and protect innocent teenagers from its current venial vengeance — to better reflect the state motto:  “Equality Before the Law.”

39 Comments

  1. There are other ways to care for older, children, Anne, but the “advantage” of this Safe Haven system for the droppers is no questions are asked, no money is required to care for the child in the future — you’re “free and clear” as a parent or guardian from having anything to do with the child ever again.

  2. I can’t help but think of the irreparable damage done to a teenager – think of the abandonment issues sure to come up for years, decades to follow. Think of the degradation to the person’s self worth – their parents just didn’t care enough to take care of them? Wow. Potent. Strongly horrible.

  3. That is the really horrible part of the matter, Gordon. These kids know they’re being abandoned. They’re in the foster care system right now. Their parents are long gone from their lives.
    The rationale behind these state-sponsored Safe Haven laws is quite honorable: An unwanted infant is given a whole new start at life if a mother or other guardian feels incapable of providing for the child’s welfare. No forms are filled out. No questions are asked. It is in the immediate best interest OF THE CHILD to handle the abandonment in such a way as to be seamless and psychically healing. Babies are more readily adopted than older children and so these “Safe Haven” babies are usually taken in by a good, established home, so they can thrive and have a chance at life.
    These older Nebraska kids that are getting dumped are, as you suggest, well aware of their surroundings and they are, indeed, wounded and scarred forever by this misbegotten and damaging process.
    Nebraska really should set up a special session of the Unicameral to fix this mess RIGHT NOW. The Unicameral website says they’re not in session again until January!

    The 100th Legislature, Second Session adjourned sine die on Thursday, April 17, 2008. The 101st Legislature, First Session is scheduled to convene at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009.

    http://nebraskalegislature.gov/web/public/home

  4. Hi David,
    I was dumbstruck at first, but then realised – if I keep on having children in the name of religion, morality, or god knows what – without having the proper resources to nourish them – this has to be the outcome.
    Sad.

  5. It’s a slippery slope, Katha, but if you have a 19-year “get out of parenthood for free” card to play with the state of Nebraska… why wouldn’t you have as many children as possible and then only keep those you really liked? Sounds ridiculous? Well… so is the current Nebraska Safe Haven law! It should be renamed: “The Nebraska Teen Dumping Grounds.”

  6. UPDATE:
    It looks like some Nebraska senators are trying to set things right:

    Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood gathered a working group of Nebraska state senators Sunday night in Omaha to address concerns regarding LB 157, the state’s new safe haven law. …
    At least 16 children, some of them teenagers, have been abandoned since the law took effect in July. Elected officials are considering revising the law, and at least one anguished parent said he only surrendered his nine children because he felt he had no choice.

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/09/29/news/local/doc48e0ea2fa7589541012957.txt

  7. UPDATE:
    Lincoln police chief Tom Casady blogs about the Safe Haven law:

    I’ve blogged about the “call the cops” culture we seem to live in on prior occasions. Not all the examples are humorous. A troubling one has been gathering a lot of ink both locally and nationally of late. Nebraska’s unique Safe Haven law has resulted in the predictable: some exasperated parents at their wits end are just leaving their non-infant and/or teenaged children at hospitals. The police, in turn, are called upon to take the child into temporary emergency custody, and make arrangements for a placement.
    That is our job by law, and we accept it. Taking steps to protect children when no one else is around to do so is about as fundamental to our mission as you can get. It’s the “no one else around” part that bothers me a little bit. I can’t help but wonder whether a couple of hours down at HQ followed by a trip in the back seat of the patrol car is the best we can do.

    http://lpd304.blogspot.com/2008/09/call-police.html

  8. UPDATE:
    It’s starting! A Council Bluffs, Iowa family dumped their troubled teen at an Omaha, Nebraska medical center:

    LINCOLN — The use of Nebraska’s unique safe haven law by a Council Bluffs family underscores the need to change the law, a top state official said Wednesday.
    The 14-year-old girl who was left Tuesday night at Creighton University Medical Center remains in Nebraska for now, said Todd Landry, children and family services director for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

    http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10454638

  9. UPDATE:
    Finally, we’re getting some sanity in Nebraska as Senator Chambers rides in to the rescue:

    State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha is advocating for a special session of the Nebraska Legislature to bring an end to use of the state’s safe haven law by parents of older children.
    The session would have a narrow focus of putting an upper age limit on children who can be abandoned under the law, he said.
    “My primary concern is not with inconvenience to the state or any other agency or entity but, rather, with the traumatic (and potentially life scarring) experience of adolescents being abandoned,” he said in a letter to state senators.

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/10/10/news/local/doc48ef87ecd2777899416823.txt

  10. UPDATE:
    Now we have a Michigan drop off:

    A Michigan teenager was left Monday at Creighton University Medical Center through Nebraska’s safe haven law.
    Todd Landry, director of the Division of Children and Family Services for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the boy was 13-year-old.
    “We now have our second case where a child from another state has been left at a Nebraska hospital,” Landry said. “We have made a formal report of the abandonment to the Michigan Department of Human Services.”

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/10/13/news/local/doc48f368e1356aa707754311.txt

  11. UPDATE:
    Still no special session — but an agreement of minds is in place — it’s just too bad the money won’t be spent to fix it now.
    I expect a run on Nebraska Teen Dumping right after the New Year and it will be all Gov. Heineman’s fault:

    Speaker Mike Flood and Gov. Dave Heineman said Monday a majority of senators in the state Legislature agree Nebraska’s safe haven law should be amended to apply to infants up to 3 days old.
    But no special session will be called to change the law.
    They will wait until the regular session, which begins Jan. 7., to address the issue in the first three weeks, Flood said.

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/10/20/news/local/doc48fc9790a87f1723099256.txt

  12. UPDATE:
    Okay, so “Hell to Pay” is the threat that works best to cower UNL into cancelling an event:

    Callers fuming over the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s plans to host 1960s and ’70s radical William Ayers as a speaker next month warned there would be “hell to pay” if he wasn’t disinvited, according to a memo prepared by a campus threat assessment expert.
    The university released the three-page memo from psychology associate professor Mario Scalora on Wednesday. The memo shows callers, e-mailers and bloggers threatened to disrupt Ayers’ speech, stage protests or harm — and even kill — Ayers if he came to Lincoln.
    “I hate violence, but I think that any directed at Ayers would be well deserved,” one blogger wrote.
    “I wonder what kind of flag (Ayers) wants on his coffin,” wrote another.

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/10/23/news/local/doc48ffad4f44bb4932372964.txt
    I guess the old chestnut that Nebraska is a friendly and God-fearing pasture is now gone — along with the buffalo in the streets and Indians on every street corner.
    The trend has been set and the threats are revealed — and UNL will be forever tugged around by its nose any time the small, angry, masses are made unhappy.
    UNL earned this condemnation, and their just punishment is living under the thumb of their homegrown terrorists wearing “Go Big Red” t-shirts.

  13. UPDATE:
    Another child was dumped in Lincoln last night:

    A 12-year-old child dropped off at BryanLGH Medical Center East Saturday night became the 20th youth abandoned under the state’s “Safe Haven” law since mid-September.

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/10/26/news/local/doc4903f1cf42410392968729.txt
    In January, Nebraska plans to make the law apply to only infants up to three days old — but, until then — if your kid is 19 or younger, you can dump your kid in Nebraska: No questions asked, no money due and no criminal charges applied.

  14. UPDATE:
    It’s getting crazy now!

    OMAHA, Neb. — State officials say a 15-year-old girl left at an Omaha hospital is the 21st child abandoned under Nebraska’s unique safe-haven law.
    The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Todd Landry says the girl from Douglas County, Neb., was left Monday evening at Creighton University Medical Center.

    http://www.salon.com/wires/ap/us/2008/10/28/D943J6OG0_safe_haven/index.html

  15. The beat goes on:

    A 15-year-old girl was left at Omaha’s Immanuel Medical Center Tuesday evening by her father, making her the 23rd child dropped off under Nebraska’s safe haven law.
    The girl was dropped off with the intent to hand her over to state custody less than 24 hours after an Omaha mother left another 15-year-old girl at Creighton University Medical Center.
    In the Monday case involving the mom and daughter, a “big argument” with an aunt led to the teenager being left at Creighton, according to documents filed Tuesday in Douglas County Juvenile Court. The teenager had been living with the aunt for 13 months.

    http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10472325

  16. Finally, we have some reason pausing in Nebraska — I wonder if we’ll have a huge teen dump run in the run up to Nov. 14?

    Gov. Dave Heineman announced today that he will call a special session to amend Nebraska’s safe haven law. The session will begin Friday, Nov. 14.
    “After consulting with the Speaker of the Legislature, I am calling a special session for November 14 to correct Nebraska’s safe haven law,” Gov. Heineman said. “A proposed three day safe haven law that the legislature has agreed to will be introduced by Speaker Flood on my behalf.”

    http://www.nebraska.tv/Global/story.asp?S=9258938

  17. Two more for the Nebraska dump pot:

    Two more teenagers were abandoned at Nebraska hospitals over the weekend, police said.
    If the state confirms both cases, they would be the 25th and 26th children left under the state’s much-criticized safe have law since it went into effect in July. The law allows caregivers to abandon children at hospitals without fear of prosecution.
    A 16-year-old girl was left Sunday at Midlands Hospital in Papillion. Also Sunday, a second teen was dropped at Children’s Hospital in Omaha. Her age wasn’t available Monday.

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gU_lifEWX5KODWJ-k3FlgP_SiE-wD947J3AG0

  18. 28th Dumping:

    LINCOLN, Neb. – An 8-year-old Indiana boy has been left at an Omaha hospital, bringing to 28 the number of children left under Nebraska’s unique safe-haven law.
    Children and family services division director Todd Landry says the boy was left Thursday morning at Bergan Mercy Hospital. The department was still gathering information on the case and offered no other details.

    http://nwitimes.com/articles/2008/11/06/ap-state-in/d949kapo0.txt

  19. Here’s #30 and almost #31:

    OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska authorities say a 17-year-old boy dropped off by his mother at an Omaha hospital is the 30th child left under Nebraska’s safe-haven law.
    Children and family services director Todd Landry said the boy from the Omaha area was left at Creighton University Medical Center on Monday morning. He didn’t give any details about the boy.
    Landry also said an 18-year-old woman left at a Lincoln hospital by her mother on Sunday was not being handled as a safe-haven case. A state Health and Human Services spokeswoman said another state law won’t let authorities take in children older than 17.

    It’s sort of sad and funny that Nebraska had to struggle to use another law to lower the Safe Haven age from 19 to 17.
    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gU_lifEWX5KODWJ-k3FlgP_SiE-wD94C8K280

  20. Tomorrow the Nebraska legislature is meeting to “fix” their Safe Haven law.
    Here’s #31, just in time:

    OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An 11-year-old Florida boy was abandoned at a Nebraska hospital Wednesday, just days before lawmakers meet to change the much-criticized “safe haven” law.
    The boy is the 31st child abandoned since the law took effect in July. It was intended to protect unwanted newborns from being abandoned but doesn’t set any age limit.

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gU_lifEWX5KODWJ-k3FlgP_SiE-wD94DOV801

  21. 35

    A 5-year-old boy from Douglas County was left by his mother about 9 p.m. Thursday at Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha, said Todd Landry, director of children and family services for the State Department of Health and Human Services.
    The child is the 35th to be dropped off at a hospital or, in one case, a police station by a parent or guardian wanting to make use of the law.

    http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10487318

  22. 36 in yer eye:

    One safe haven case has ended as another one is beginning.
    Douglas County prosecutors dismissed a case Tuesday involving a 17-year-old Omaha boy who was left last week at Creighton University Medical Center, calling the situation a “misunderstanding.”
    The mother didn’t want to abandon her son — she just wanted him to have a cooling-off period after an argument, said Eric Wells, a deputy Douglas County attorney.
    Meanwhile, a 15-year-old girl was dropped off Tuesday at St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island.
    The girl’s guardian, who is a relative, took the Hall County teenager to the hospital in the afternoon, said Todd Landry, director of children and family services for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. She is now in a foster home, Landry said.

    http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10491916

  23. Now we need the Gov. to sign and what’s done is done:

    CNN) — Nebraska lawmakers voted Friday to change a controversial safe-haven law by restricting the age under which a child can be dropped off at a hospital without the parents being prosecuted.
    Thirty-five children have been dropped off at Nebraska hospitals since the law was enacted.
    On a vote of 43-5, the state Senate — the only chamber in Nebraska’s Legislature — approved final passage of the revision. The change scraps the current version of the safe-haven law — which has no age limitation — and instead says that no child older than 30 days can be dropped off.

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/11/21/nebraska.safe.haven/?iref=mpstoryview

  24. The New Safe Haven law is now in effect in Nebraska — 30 days is the new limit — but one lucky parent beat the cutoff time to dump her teen in Nebraska before the governor could sign the new law into effect:

    One more parent used Nebraska’s safe haven law on Friday, the last day on which the safe haven law applied to children up to age 18, according to Todd Landry, director of the Division of Children and Family Services for the Department of Health and Human Services .
    A 14-year old boy from Yolo County, California, was left at the Kimball County Hospital in Kimball late Friday afternoon by his mother, who drove to Nebraska.

    http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2008/11/22/news/local/doc492833c74e38b131547474.txt

  25. Here’s the perfect, final, insult:

    The NBC medical drama “ER” injected a snippy one-liner about Nebraska’s safe haven law on Thursday night’s episode.
    A pregnant woman being wheeled into the emergency room on a gurney to be treated for an injury to her hand is angry with a parking meter attendant for giving her a ticket. After punching the attendant, the woman chastises him and tells him to get a real job.
    “If my kid grows up to be like him, I am dropping him off in Omaha, you hear me?” the woman says. “I will disown him.”

    http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10494515

  26. Now that this news is no longer front page, I would like to be able to meet some of these children that abandoned at these firehouses and hospitals. I think they have a story and it needs to be told. It needs to be told to the parents who dropped them off and every other parent out there who would rather blame their children for all their problems than take responsiliblity for their lack of ability as a parent.
    If no one steps forward, I would be glad to assist in getting their stories written.