Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Good Idea Gone Bad

I live in Nebraska, that state that keeps popping up in the news lately because of our "safe haven" law. Seems the Unicameral (yep, we're that state with just one house of government...so there's no House v. Senate to allow for back-and-forth discussion and compromise to refine ideas and to keep the stupid ideas at bay) decided we needed a "safe haven" law last year (we were, apparently, one of the last states to enact such legislation....that's one of our many claims to fame: being near the bottom of the list on many things). When the legislators drafted the "safe haven" act they chose not to define "minor child," thus leaving the age at which a child could be legally abandoned open to interpretation.

Well, little ones, as any of you that follow the news know Nebraska has become the "abandon your child" doorstep for the nation. From infants to 17-year-olds, so far 24 children have been abandoned (mostly at hospitals) in Nebraska. And folks are actually driving from as far away as Michigan and Georgia to abandon their children here! Good god, what are parents thinking?!? Yes, some kids are trying and troubled, and yes, we all reach the end of our rope from time to time, but come on! Driving all the way from Georgia to abandon your child?!? I cannot even imagine the conversation you'd have to have on such a trip:

"Well, Johnny, we are going on a trip to, um, visit some relatives you didn't know we had in Nebraska."

"Nebraska?! Nebraska?! You've got to be kidding me, Mom. We don't have any relatives in Nebraska. Heck, all that's in Nebraska is cornfields and a once-great college football team! .... Oh no, wait, you're not thinking of leaving me there, are you?! I've heard the news, I know what's happening to kids in Nebraska."

Well, you get the idea. At any rate, it's got to be one tense drive, don'tcha think?! And then they get here, leave the child, and go home thinking all will be well...except for the rip they've created in their heart and the heart of their child, and the fact that those rips will likely never heal, and a legal mess that will entwine the parent and child in a messed-up cross-state morass for years to come.

I know the misguided legislators here had the best of intentions, but it sure isn't playing out that way. Now they are talking about calling a Special Session and revising the law to better define the age of a child that can be safely abandoned. And, get this, they are going from "minor child" to "3 days old" .... talk about swinging the pendulum the total opposite way! Three days old?! That's a bit of a short window, don'tcha think? What's wrong with 6 months old....that would be a much more realistic choice (and one that many states in this nation already have in place).

Come on you Unicameral mavericks, use a brain! If there is a Special Session, please please please have a hearing on this and let the public have a say. While "minor child" is a bit too open to interpretation, 3 days is not...but it sure as hell is too short a time period. Six months would be more balanced and smarter. Since you screwed it up so bad the first time, don't turn around and do the same screw-up job again....be smart this time, please.

The saddest part of this mess is that so many people seem to be unaware of the resources available to them (in Nebraska and in their home states) to help them with child care issues. Most of the children abandoned in Nebraska so far come from situations where the existing resources (Health & Human Services, counseling, schools, etc....heck, even family members) were never even explored or utilized. Apparently we need a lot more public education on what resources are available and how to use them. No one is ever alone in a challenging parent-child situation...there is help available all around you. But you have to pull your head outa your @ss and ask for it. And perhaps there's the rub....our innate aversion to asking for help.....

There are no easy answers in this...I don't envy the Unicameral the task of redefining the "save haven" law, but I do hope they are able to get it a little closer to right this time. And I hope that public education increases A LOT to help make our state's parental citizens aware of the resources available to them in times of need.

Hug your kids/parents today, little ones, and be glad you have 'em.

UPDATE: There will be a Special Session of the Nebraska Unicameral to "fix" the safe-haven law; the session will begin Nov. 14; time limits of 3 days to 1 month have been discussed.

11/10/08 UPDATE: The total of abandoned kids is now 30...and very few of those abandoned under the current "safe haven" law are actual infants (most are teenagers).

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