Neb. Safe Haven Law Draws Criticism

Roger Munns, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Health Services, said Iowa officials planned to speak to the grandmother and that the girl could be placed in foster care in Nebraska or sent back to her family in Iowa.

"Throwing up your hands and giving up on your child and taking them to Nebraska is not the way to handle a troubled teenager," he said.

Though the law immunizes parents from prosecution in Nebraska, Todd Landry, director of the Division of Children and Family Services for the Department of Health and Human Services, suggested that the woman could be prosecuted in Iowa, which allows parents to give up children under its safe haven law until they are two weeks old.

"Clearly this law had had unintended consequences. I think at this point it is very clear that Nebraska needs to provide a vehicle to help parents of challenged children," said Kathy Moore, director of Voices for Children, a child advocacy group. "Parents need to be able to come forward and say they need therapy, they need residential treatment" for their children.

Karen Authier, director of Nebraska Children's Center, a foster care agency, agreed there is a lack of mental health services for parents. "What this law has brought to the forefront is that there are families who are desperate enough that they want to give up their parenting role. The state needs to address that," she said. "They've opened Pandora's box."

She said that most of the older children who have been abandoned have had serious behavior problems.

Their reactions to abandonment "can range from anything from anger to guilt to sadness," she said. "The important thing is to talk them through those feelings and help prepare them from whatever the next steps are going to be."

Landry denied that there were not enough services, saying that none of the parents who abandoned their children did so because they were unable to pay for services.

He said the safe haven law should be changed. "It needs to get back to the original intent of the safe haven law," he said. "And that is a protection device for infants who are in immediate danger of being harmed."

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