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Safe Haven Shrinkage

October 21st, 2008

Do you ever start talking to someone mid-conversation? Once you start talking you realize you’ve been carrying on the conversation in your head and the other person has no idea what you are talking about? Yeah, that was what yesterday’s post was. So let’s just pretend that is part of my quirky charm and move on.


Safe Haven laws have popped up in many states in the past 15 years. The law is meant to allow a parent to leave an infant at a hospital (or firehouse or police station) without any legal repercussions. Basically it is legal child abandonment. The law came into vogue after a trend of dangerous abandonments and deaths of infants (babies found in trash bags, dumpsters, closets, etc). Lawmakers hoped to give parents options other than abortion or putting a newborn into harms way.

Laws differ from state to state. In some states the babies end up in the foster system in other states they are available for adoption. Some states have specific parameters for how old the baby can be to qualify for drop off. Other states aren’t as strict. Nebraska wrote their law in such a way that people have been dropping off children of all ages – even teens – when they feel they can’t care for the child any longer. Their child protective system is feeling the strain and lawmakers are drafting a bill to close the loophole. They will now only accept babies up to 3 days old making it one of the strictest Safe Haven Laws in the country.

I’m struggling with my feelings on this. I used to work in the system and there are never enough resources or money to go around. I can understand the concern about straining an already stretched tight system. I also have issues with allowing these parents to walk away with no personal responsibility for their children and the trauma of being abandoned at age3, 5 or 12. But isn’t it better to allow these parents to drop their kids off before they inflict harm on them? If a parent is on the edge and sees no way out that stress may lead to abuse. Offering the parents an alternative to reaching the breaking point can’t be a bad thing. I just have to think that no matter the consequences to our budgets, it has to be better to get a child out of a potentially volatile situation.

Discuss in comments. I’m curious to hear what others think. Respectful disagreement is always welcome.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 8:32 am and is filed under political. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “Safe Haven Shrinkage”

  1. elle Says:

    Tough question. In my opinion I agree that it’s better to allow parents to relinquish children no matter the age rather than inflict physical abuse on them. Some will say that abandonment is abuse and not easily overcome.

    Yes, the foster care system is stretched far too thin in this country, but children deserve to be safe. If that means drastically reforming the foster care system or instituting a group care situation so be it. As long as children are cared for.

  2. Peeved Michelle Says:

    I disagree. I don’t think dropping off your kid at a safe haven or inflicting harm are the only choices available. Just because safe haven isn’t an option doesn’t mean there aren’t other routes for voluntarily terminating parental rights.

    (Clicked over from DD’s twitterfeed.)

  3. Michelle Says:

    Agreed – of course there are a laundry list of options in between the 2. Help is out there if someone asks for it. I guess the question is – is someone who would harm a child open to asking for help? Do they see that there are options? Or do they just see this kid who is making them nuts and they will do anything to get them to shut up or out of their face?

  4. DD Says:

    Nebraska, being the uptight and conservative state that they are, were the last to adopt a Safe Haven law. Why the f*ck they didn’t take into account the other 49 states of the union and the particulars of the problems that face those states is beyond me. That being said, I tried to find the link to a news story that covered why the one grandmother left the teenage boy, but couldn’t, but here’s the jist: the boy is a troubled and abusive teen and the grandmother felt – for her and for whatever reason – she had used up the resources she had and when she awoke one night to find him standing over her…well, I’m sorry, but that freak me the fuck out, too.

    Now they want to change the law to limit to under 3 days old. Why 3 days? Why not a week old? A month, a year…? What will they do when that happens? Turn the mother away and then sic CPS, who will take away the baby anyway after months of going through the court system?

    When Nebr originally introduced the bill, I remember the illustrious (air quotes) Senator Ernie Chambers being a huge opponent to it. His reason? The Save Haven law would be an excuse for teenagers to NOT practice safe sex. What a freaking leap of the imagination!

    And just to end my rant on a grisly note: several years ago a naked infant boy was found in the spillway in my town. He was guessed to be two days old and he had drowned. The parent(s) (who were never found) threw the baby into the water alive. Would that baby still be alive today, attending elementary school if there had been a Safe Haven Law back then? There’s no answer to that, but I would like to believe that even as flawed as the SH law is, that maybe the next two day old baby won’t be thrown away.

    The problem is not with the law. It is with the state overburdened with adolescents who have no access to services to meet their special – usually sociopathic – needs.

    The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach and my blood boil.

  5. Liz Says:

    I too work in the system. In our county you can drop your kids off if they are over 30 days, but you have to work with the system, it’s not just a complete drop off. Now of course if you simply refuse to do the work, or services, then you have your rights terminated, but you get the point. I think that this does work as sometimes you do have kids that are tough, and without family or friends to help out a parent can get stressed and not know where to turn.
    I would much rather have some parent drop off their kids rather than beat the crap out of them or kick them out of the house.

  6. Vanessa Says:

    I think allowing them to drop off their children is better than finding them in the dumpster already dead! Or having them beat the children to death!! I just wish adoptions in the US were easier all the way around! We had two failed domestics before adopting from GUA!

  7. mama k Says:

    Interesting topic. I think that narrowing down the age is a good idea, though 3 days seems pretty strict. I guess how would they really know how old the baby is, right? The purpose of the SH law was to protect newborns from harm, not teenagers. And I think it was a great idea. I would be wonderful if those children could be place with adoptive parents from the start. Lord knows there are enough families waiting for a baby.
    There definitely needs to be more support for parents with children of all ages, but I don’t think dropping a 3 year old off, no questions asked, is the answer.

  8. Amy Says:

    I completely agree. I think that parents should be able to “drop off” kids of any age. I think that parents who become so desperate that they are considering abandoning said child because they can recognize the situation for what it is and realize that at the very best it is not going to end well should have a solution supported by the state.

    Honestly, what is the alternative? Abuse/neglect – the law was created to help eradicate just the problem its recall would perpetuate. Children running away – so then they can fall victim to the abuse children suffer and are subjected to on the streets. Filing unruly charges against their children – so now we are going to overload the judicial system and the detention halls? That is what I don’t get. Play the tape to the end people. So, you change this law and what happens to the children that are 5 days old, 2 weeks old, 1 year old, 3, 5, 12 that are still in a bad, potentially abusive situation. What exactly happens to them again? Eventual CPS involvement, yeah probably. God knows they aren’t over-worked enough and money is just flowing into that bureacratic black hole. I must have missed that part in the grand master plan.

    Just my opinion.

  9. Peeved Michelle Says:

    I agree that three days is too short. You don’t start to really go crazy until about week in. I doubt that baby in the spillway would be alive if you had a safe haven law back then. We have had one for a very long time in California and every year there are still abandoned babies found dead and alive. The kind of person who would throw a live baby into a spillway isn’t likely the person who would walk into a hospital or fire station or police station and turn over the baby to the authorities.

  10. Brenda Says:

    What makes a 1 month old more important than a 5 year old? If a parent can’t feed a child or take care of him/her, then they should be able to drop off at any age. I don’t approve of the system just taking “infants” b/c most likely they feel they will be adopted and a 5 year old won’t.

  11. Maria Says:

    I agree with you. I feel bottom line, no matter what, is the child. Do I think parents SHOULD be held responsible? Sure but in lieu of that I care more about the childrens safety. Each child deserves a chance at life and love. If their parents cant or wont provide that we as a society SHOULD. 🙂 It is sickening to think of someone killing a newborn or abusing a child. If they chose to drop them off , then so be it. Good for the child.

  12. Maria Says:

    Ok. Smiling face should NOT be there….

  13. Andrea Says:

    You read my post on this before, so you know my feelings about the law. And that was before the other child from out of state was abandoned. I think that Nebraska did a good thing by putting a limit, but perhaps three days is too short. I don’t think there’s a good answer at all. The father that abandoned the 10 kids? Now he’s changed his mind. THAT bothers me. I think there should be a better answer, but I just don’t know what that answer is.

  14. Ale Says:

    This has been the unofficial practice in Guatemala City for many years. It is interesting how much the comments to your post resemble the different points of view on the same issue here in Guate. There is no specific law about this but there is no way to find out who dropped a child unless the child is old enough to know her full name and address. Firefighters find babies at the doorsteps of their stations from time to time and this always generates exchanges in the news papers and comments from all sides.

    I met several children abandoned at the National Hospital in GC when I volunteered there back when I was in middle school. Some were left there after birth, some were children brought in for medical attention and never picked up 🙁 ages varied from newborns to 8-9 year-olds. The hospital kept them as long as they could, hoping parents would come back, then referred them to homes. Sometimes relatives came looking for these kids once they figured out what happened, others eventually got adopted, others stay in hogares. I remember in particular a little boy who had some severe handicap (couldn’t speak and was too malnourished to know his age). He had been abandoned one night and the nurses called him “Juan de Dios” (the name of the hospital) and looked after him. He “lived” in the pediatrics unit. I was only 14 or 15 but wished I could take some of these kids home, particularly the older children who had had a home before being abandoned at the hospital and were old enough to understand what had happened!

    Anyway, going back to this law, I think there are no easy solutions. If it weren’t for these alternatives, children would be worse off. I don’t think having this alternative will make more parents abandon their children because it is really an act of desperation. I think the case of the father who abandoned the 10 children is a rare exception. 3 days is too short, toddlers and even older children are as vulnerable so why not them, too? Hard stuff.

  15. Melissa Says:

    Not sure what the solution is. I agree that the parents need to be held accountable and responsible for their actions. But at the same time, the safety of these kids should be the highest priority. I think the need to protect these children outweighs anything else. And I think this applies to ALL children – regardless of age.

    Too bad we can’t make all parents go through a screening process, background check, parenting classes, etc before they have children!

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