29 August 2008

Safe for Whom?

Did you see that Nebraska has a new safe haven law? While it is the last state in the U.S. to adopt one, it is unique in "allowing parents to abandon unwanted children at hospitals with no questions asked...It goes beyond babies and potentially permits the abandonment of anyone under 19."

"All children deserve our protection," said Sen. Tom White, who helped broaden the measure. "If we save one child from being abused, it's well, well worth it."

White said it doesn't matter if that child is an infant or three years old or in the care of a parent or baby sitter. As for what constitutes a minor, he refers to common law, which interprets it to be anyone under age 14.

State Sen. Arnie Stuthman, who introduced the original bill dealing only with infants, agreed to the compromise after the bill became stalled in debate.

"The main interest I have is that it gives the mother or a parent another option of what to do with a child before they do something drastic," he said.

The measure, which took effect July 18, does not absolve people of possible criminal charges -- for example, if a child had been beaten.

And since the law does not specify, it technically allows anyone, not just a parent, to legally surrender custody. Most other states narrowly define the role of the person surrendering the child.

Some hospitals have fielded questions from the public about the law, but no children have been dropped off.

"I hope there never is one," Stuthman said.

Pertman, who directs the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, said his research going back several years shows safe-haven laws are not accomplishing what they intended. Women who are distressed enough to want to abandon their children are not the ones reading billboards or getting the message about these laws, he said.

Pertman finds Nebraska's law particularly alarming because it is not focused on infants and parents.

Casting such a wide net "circumvents every rational practice in child welfare that I'm aware of," he said. "That's as nicely as I can put it."

California, for example, allows parents to legally abandon a child at a hospital or other designated safe zones within 72 hours of birth.

Remember when your parents threatened to sell you to the gypsies if you misbehaved as a child? Now, they just need to tell a kid that the next family trip is to Nebraska.

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