Another family has made the news by dropping off their children, 9 of them from ages 1 to 17 at a hospital in Nebraska. It is in my mind, in cases of abandonment, almost as if the children are treated like a litter of unwanted puppies. In mid July, Nebraska made its own news headlines by instituting a “safe haven law”.
Most states in the US have some sort of a safe haven law which is designed to protect children who are either unwanted; or, in unsafe environments regarding living conditions, or in situations of neglect or abuse. The safe haven laws are meant to allow a safe place for children to be left such as a hospital or a fire station. What is unique about the new law in Nebraska is that it doesn’t clarify who has the authority to drop off said children…it could be a baby sitter, grandparent, parent, neighbor or what have you. Another important point, most of the states that implement safe haven laws usually are set up to protect infants. Nebraska made headlines by not limiting the reach of the safe haven laws to infant only drop offs…it basically says “minors”…leaving the new law open to interpetation.
The courts will have to clarify the definition of the safe haven law so that the protection of the children and the people who abandon them is more clear. At the moment, anyone under the age of 19 is allowed to be dropped off in a safe haven. There will be no legal repercussions as long as abuse or neglect is not involved. In some ways, this may help those situations where we read about newborn infants born to teen mothers who are dumped in a garbage can or left outside alone. Maybe in those cases, some children will be saved…but, this new law opens up a whole new set of issues regarding children and their families.
I know that the law was set up in good faith…to protect the children. However, you have to wonder about the psychological damage to those same children who are old enough to understand that they have been abandoned by the people most trusted in their lives. An infant does not comprehend the abandonment until they are older and the information is presented to them…an older child certainly does understand the idea of abandoment and there certainly will ensue emotional and psychological damage. However, i will say an infant may not understand the full scope of abandonment; but, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by it; when they are affected, it is often called an attachment disorder…where the baby has trouble bonding with their caregivers, either giving or receiving love…sometimes, it is even turned into a failure to thrive. All human beings deserve to be loved and wanted.
Studies have been done on babies or infants who have been abandoned in other countries and left in orphanages…if they do not get enough human interaction that shows love or caring…those children can actually die from the lack of human, loving touch. Don’t think that when an infant is dropped off, even at a safe haven…that they won’t know the difference between being wanted and unwanted.
People who find themselves in desperate circumstances may be tempted to go the route of the safe haven in a moment of extreme duress. However, the long term consequences make me wonder whether this is a viable option. People who abuse or neglect their children willingly or freely are not going to be so very concerned about making sure that the place they abandon their child is considered a safe place. It would be better to put into place programs that facilitate helping families who are in danger of imploding.
Not to mention, those parents or caregivers who are feeling desperate…say…in a financial crisis…they can’t afford to feed or house their children…may think that this safe haven is an option for them. The consequences of such an action could be considered permanent…even if their circumstances change in time. Their custody could be forever impacted by that one moment of temptation to abandon the children in a safe place.
I wonder if other options are being given as much media & legal attention, such as making a short term placement with social services; for short term foster care in cases where, say a housing or financial need is threatening the ability to keep a family together?
Children aren’t like litters of animals…not that animals should be abandoned either! Being a pet owner or a parent is a huge responsiblity…the demands are serious. People should not enter into the role of a pet owner or parenting without alot of thought! Parents need to take their commitment to parenting seriously.
If a parent is considering abandoning their children…wouldn’t it be better to work with an agency and make a permanency plan such as adoption? Definately, if that were the case, doing it in infancy is better than waiting until a child is old enough to be scarred by an emotional and physical abandonment by their parents or caregivers. At least by making sure that the child/children were placed in a safe and loving home…a child would have a chance to grow up and to be nutured in a loving environment.
No one should ever be made to feel unwanted, unloved or unprotected. Abandonment leaves permanent scares that impact their young lives and often, other generations of lives as well. What are your feelings on the safe haven laws?