Parents Leave Kids With 'Safe Haven' Loophole

In the years that followed, she took him to other therapists and hospitals, but says she feared his behavior would not truly improve without full-time residential care which she could not afford.

But while Coover was seeking a place for Skyler, she believed she and her family were in danger. She used the Safe Haven law because she said she couldn't afford to wait until something tragic happened before Skyler got more help than she could give.

Some kids were dropped off not by parents, but by uncles, aunts or grandparents. Every weekday morning Cindy Spangler gets up at 6:30 to make her grandchildren breakfast. There is 13- year-old Keerstyn, 11-year-old Sierra and 8-year-old Samantha. But someone is missing: their 12-year-old brother, Bryan.

A few weeks ago Spangler asked her daughter Cynthia, Bryan's aunt, to bring him to Immanuel Medical Center, back to the residential treatment care program where he'd been for the last 11 months.

"I mean, he threatened to kill the next-door neighbor little boy, screaming to the top of his lungs," Cynthia said. "I've tried to explain to him by doing that -- if somebody else was to do that -- they would take you to jail. That was where he was going to end up if we didn't do something."

So Cynthia walked through the emergency room doors of Immanuel hospital and there, she said, she talked to a caseworker, but, says she never used the words Safe Haven. She said she told the nurses the boy needed to see his psychiatrist and be readmitted to residential treatment.

"But by that point I was in tears, he was in tears. He had just got done telling the police officer I'm going to kill myself. I just looked at them and said, 'I gotta go.'"

Cynthia said it was desperation that motivated her, not a lack of concern for the boy. She and her family still hope to help him.

"If anybody in Nebraska has looked for help anywhere it's been my mom. She's been dealing with this child for the last eight years trying her best to get him on the right track. He did have a rough start and he does have a lot of major issues, doesn't mean you give up on him."

As the Nebraska legislature began the session on amending the Safe Haven law Monday, Eve Bleyhl traveled to the hearing by bus with families that hoped to tell lawmakers about what drives such a drastic action.

"Everybody else gets to judge and discuss what they could have done, should have done, didn't do. But they rarely have had the opportunity to stand up for themselves," said Bleyhl, executive director of the Nebraska Family Support Network, an agency that works with families with troubled children.

She said families want the legislature to understand that changing the law won't change the real problem: the lack of help for parents whose kids who are truly disturbed. Bleyhl hopes the legislators will ultimately address what she says the law didn't cause, but merely exposed.

"It's common knowledge that there's a problem," she said. "Professionals are just as frustrated about it as families. What needs to happen is that the professionals need to continue bringing the families to the table to ensure appropriate solutions."

Safe Haven Alternative: Boys Town

Angie Thiel understands how desperate some parents can become. She's helping her son pack for a residential treatment program. He's going away for what may be a very long time.

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