Safe haven rollback not in best interests of children

By Annie Piekarczyk

In today’s society, if you get tired of something, you can get rid of it. A car, an old cell phone, a pair of jeans – you name it – and with a snap of your fingers, it’s gone. Just like that.

You can do that with just about anything. In Nebraska, if you’re tired of your son’s smelly sneakers and sour teenage attitude, don’t worry. You can drive to the nearest hospital or police station and drop him off, no questions asked. The state will take care of him. That’s right: If you’re just not feeling like being a parent anymore, you don’t have to!

Since September, approximately 19 children, many of them teenagers and two of them from out of state, have been legally abandoned at Nebraskan hospitals, all because of Nebraska’s new safe haven law, which was originally meant to prevent dumpster babies.

Nebraska was the last state to enact a safe haven law, and while the other states specify a certain age limit up to a year that a baby can be dropped off, Nebraska’s law was more ambiguous, allowing any “child” to be legally abandoned.

That slight slip meant that parents would be able to abandon their children up to the age of 18. Some Nebraskan parents have taken advantage of that law, as one man dropped off nine of his 10 children (ages 1-17) claiming that he couldn’t sufficiently support them because his wife recently died. Many other teenagers have also been abandoned simply because the parents said they were difficult. Some of those teenagers were later returned back home by the state.

This has alarmed state legislators who plan on convening in January to amend the law with a cut-off age of three days old.

But why?

The new and “improved” law would not only return some of the children who have been abandoned thus far back to their parents, but it would also not allow anymore minors other than newborn infants to be dropped off.

Sure, abandoning your children shouldn’t be an easy thing to do. In fact, it really shouldn’t be done at all if parents understood the commitment of having a child in the first place. But it is happening, so obviously there’s a problem. Many folks who have abandoned their kids in Nebraska thus far claim that the child was misbehaving, unmanageable and burdensome. So why not let the parents drop them off?

If parents recognize their own inability to take care of a child, to support them, to lead them toward success and happiness, then by all means, that child should be with someone who can provide those things for them. It’s a no-brainer. And the minute that a parent abandons their child at a hospital for the state to take care of, they acknowledge that fact and waive their parental rights.

While it’s irresponsible for a parent to so easily give up on their child to the point of abandonment, it may be even more irresponsible that they don’t admit to defeat. If parents can’t provide a good, loving home for their child, then that child shouldn’t grow up in a kind of environment in which there can’t possibly be a promising future.

That’s not even mentioning what happens to children who get sent back to their parents after being abandoned. To be abandoned by a parent has to be one of the single most traumatic experiences in life, and it can only make matters worse to return the abandoned child back home to the parents, the people who decided to abandon them in the first place.

How can a child grow up in a home where they know they’re not wanted? It’s no longer just a feeling that maybe their parents don’t want them, but the notion has been confirmed: their parents don’t want them. Now what? They just wait until they’re 18, and they can finally leave? In that case, neither the parent nor the child wants to be together.

So, the law should let them go their separate ways. It’s for the best. Nebraska’s safe haven law had it right the first time: Any child should be eligible to be legally abandoned by their parents. No amends needed.

Annie is a freshman in broadcast journalism and she doesn’t know how she’s going to make it through her first Illinois winter.