Safe Haven Law Finally Changed

During a special session, the Nebraska legislature finally fixed the Baby Safe Haven law which had allowed for relinquishment up to the age of 18.  It resulted in 35 children being relinquished many of which were in their teens.

Thanks to the New York Times for following up on this.  -GS

November 22, 2008

Nebraska Revises Child Safe Haven Law

OMAHA — In an emergency session, the Nebraska legislature on Friday revised a law permitting parents or guardians to hand children over to state custody without fear of prosecution, limiting its reach to infants up to 30 days old.

Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill Friday afternoon, It will go into effect at 12:01 Saturday morning.

Earlier this year, Nebraska was the last of the 50 states to adopt a so-called safe haven law, which was mainly intended to protect newborns from being abandoned to the elements or killed by panicked young mothers. But instead of specifying that the law only applied to infants up to a certain age, as in all other states, Nebraska’s version used the word “child,” opening the door to handovers of children up to age 18.

Since Sept. 1, to the shock of state officials and the public, 35 children, many of them teen-agers and including several from out-of-state, were left at hospitals under the law.

In most cases, distraught parents or guardians said that the children were uncontrollable and violent, and that they could not find adequate counseling and mental health services. The spate of drop-offs triggered local and national debate about the adequacy of aid for distressed families and teen-agers. Many legislators and child advocates said the desperate actions by caretakers had exposed serious gaps in the state’s public and private social aid, especially for families with troubled older children.

As the hospital drop-offs continued, Governor Heineman called a special session of the legislature this week solely to amend the law. On Thursday, the legislature established a commission to study the problem and propose new measures.

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