Thursday, November 13, 2008

Flip This Law

I've been reading for a while, in between election updates, about this funky child abandonment law in Nebraska. "Safe Haven" laws exist because not every woman who gets pregnant wants a baby. And not every pregnant woman is able to choose whether or not to not stay pregnant. The result is that some fraction women have babies and either kill them or leave them to die shortly after birth.

Many states, and countries for that matter, have found it saves lives to allow women who have recently given birth but don't want to keep their kids to be able to abandon them safely at hospitals or police stations without fear that they will be tracked down and made to pay or otherwise care for the child they want no part of, nor arrested for not caring for their child they can't or don't want to care for.

Most of these laws specify a time limit of something like 3 days or a couple weeks. I think that's a little short because what about the people who change their minds at birth when they see their child, then try to live with it and realize their first instincts were right. We couldn't extend this up to a year? Or longer? Well, Nebraska did. Apparently it was unintentional that their law allows for the abandonment of children up to 18 years old. Because people have been taking them up on their offer for kids as old as 17 and according the the news, the lawmakers are freaking out.

Nebraska's reaction is to say, "NOooooooo! that's not what we meannnnnnt. Don't do thaaaaaat, people! We meant babies. Only helpless babies, not the annoying older kids that are hard to place." Their plan appears to be to revise the law to specify infants only.

But every time I think about it, the fact that parents of mostly grown kids are desperate enough to risk giving up all rights on their kids in perpetuity makes me wonder what kind of options there are for families in need. Because the fact of people using the law means there's need. So instead of knee-jerking to take away this law that people are finding useful, can we not look at WHY people are doing this? I haven't had any conversations, yet, with my social services friends - there has been other stuff in the air - so I don't know what social service professionals think here.

But what I think is that clearly some parents need options. I work with machines more than people, so I don't know what the alternatives are. But if someone is worried that their partly or mostly grown child would be better off somewhere else, with someone else, rather than in their care, what options are there to address this? Can you drive up to social services and say:
  • I can't afford to have my kids anymore.
  • I'm worried that I'll hurt my kids if they stay with me.
  • My spouse died and I cannot cope with the kids.
  • My child's teen years are driving me to drink.
  • I'm worried for my life because my teen is out of control.
and just leave your kids with someone neutral and safe?

Maybe some people figure their kids are old enough to know how to find their way back later, if they drop them off in Nebraska now. Maybe they're depressed, unemployed, or ready to smack. Maybe they're just done and honestly don't want the kids. Maybe they seriously need a vacation. Maybe they don't know about other options. But if people are driving to Nebraska to drop their kids somewhere safe, then there is need to either help parents cope, or take over the care of kids people no longer want or can care for. And if there is need, someone needs to step in - if we honestly believe that all people have a right to live once born.

So instead of, or in addition to, Nebraska rolling back their law to cover only newborns, can there not also be some terrific publicity of what the options are for older kids at risk? In every state? Because I honestly don't know if there are any. And clearly other people don't know either because they're driving to Nebraska to turn over their non-newborn kids where they can't fear reprisal. And I find it odd that the first reaction reported by the news is that somehow this useful law is flawed and should be rescinded when it is clearly meeting a need.


azteclady said...

I probably have to get some coffee and think more before saying anything but...

No state can afford to support the many children of all ages being abandoned all over the country; imprisoning parents for it only costs the system more money.

Add all the trauma and issues those abandoned children grow up with--and I frankly don't know whether it's worse to be abandoned as a baby or as an older child; to be told, "you are more trouble than you are worth".

Women are forced to bear those children (by making abortion difficult if not outright illegal) whether they want them or not, and while it's easier to say, "they shouldn't get pregnant to begin with, ergo they shouldn't have sex" and call it a day, that part? it ain't gonna happen.


*off to get some coffee*

gail said...

Doesn't this bring to mind all of those stories of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Depression era when people were doing much the same thing?

One story that comes repeatedly to my mind was depicted in the movie 'Seabiscuit' --- when the parents gave their oldest son to the 'horse trainer' because they couldn't afford to keep him.

Orphanages were filled to capacity.

Same as during the times before/after the War Between the States --- the 'orphan trains' --- not all of those children were orphans.

Seems as though the harder the times the more often the children suffer.

Sad --- but I don't see it as directly tied to the abortion issue. Many parents have a child because they 'think' they want them --- a bid for 'unconditional love' that fades when the child develops a personality.

All that said --- I have no clue what the solution is --- but I think that the 'child protection laws' are part of the issue. They have gone overboard in a bid to protect the child at all costs --- which in turn takes all rights and power away from the parent/adult --- which in turn creates uncontrollable children --- which in turn creates a mess with 'child abandonment' ....

Vicious cycle feeding on a vicious cycle ....

*sigh* I really need so good news!

azteclady said...

*waving at Gail*

I'm with you on the good news front.

gail said...

{{{{{HUGS}}}}} right back!

Still hopeful!!

S said...

I think it's reasonable to put an age limit of a month on the no-questions-asked Safe Haven law. Older than that, and I think there should definitely be some option to relinquish a child, but it should be done in such a way that things like the child's medical records and school records are passed along.

I don't know what options different states have for relinquishing older kids. I met a women when I was volunteering at a batterd women's shelter in MA. A couple years earlier, the woman had asked DSS to take her two kids because she couldn't manage raising them on her own. (I believe they were toddlers, and the mom was about 20.) DSS said the kids weren't abused, and wouldn't take them. So she took the kids home, beat them up, brought them back to DSS, and said, "Will you take them now?" And they did.

Clearly, *that* is a system far more f'ed up than Nebraska's.

CrankyOtter said...

S: You are always so practical. Yeah, I was worried about situations like the one you described. I don't think there should only be the one option of "give the kids up forever" either, but if people are desperate, it's good if they can get the kids out of the line of fire before the trigger gets pulled.

G: As for good news, see the new post.

AL: The whole abortion post is still filtering. I'm just not sure when to spring it on folk.