I always say that before you pass a law you should carefully consider whether or not you understand the full implications it holds. What sounds like a great idea may, in practice, come with some unitended consequences.
Take Nebraska’s Child Safe-Haven law. Like similar laws in many other states it allows parents of children who feel they cannot care for them to drop them off at a local hospital without fear of being prosecuted for abandonment. Unlike the other state’s laws, the Nebraska law allows not just parents, but anyone to drop off a kid and there’s no age limit on the child. It sounds like a good idea. After all if a kid isn’t being cared for properly it’s probably best that he be given up to the state.
The trouble is they didn’t anticipate how many people would take advantage of that law nor did they anticipate that parents would drive from other states to drop off their kids:
A Michigan mother drove roughly 12 hours to Omaha, so she could abandon her 13-year-old son at a hospital under the state’s unique safe-haven law, Nebraska officials said Monday.
The boy from the Detroit area is the second teenager from outside Nebraska and 18th child overall abandoned in the state since the law took effect in July.
[…] Last week, a 14-year-old girl from Iowa was left at an Omaha hospital by her grandparents. The girl has since been returned to her family.
It would seem there are a lot of families out there struggling with parenting issues and the Nebraska law is bringing them out into the open. Needless to say this wasn’t what they had intended:
“I certainly recognize and can commiserate and empathize with families across our state and across the country who are obviously struggling with parenting issues, but this is not the appropriate way of dealing with them, whether you’re in Nebraska or whether you’re in another state,” said Todd Landry, who heads the state’s Department of Health and Human Services’ division of children and family services.
[…] State officials have stressed that the safe-haven law should be used only for children in immediate danger; some worry the broadly written law could make the state a dumping ground for unwanted children.
State officials have said parents and caregivers need to understand there is no guarantee an abandoned child could be returned to them if they change their minds. The have encouraged parents to seek other resources before resorting to abandonment.
Lawmakers have spoken about the need to re-examine the law, but the Legislature doesn’t reconvene until January. Gov. Dave Heineman has been reluctant to call a rare special session.
Landry declined to comment on whether a special session was needed, but he did say Monday that a new law is needed to specifically address infants in danger. Two children coming from out of state is clear evidence changes are needed, he said.
“We need to get back to the intent of the law,” he said. “The intent of the law was always the protection of newborns in immediate danger of being harmed.”
It’s those pesky unintended consequences once again. They’ll come back to bite you in the ass every time.
One would hope this would spur a national conversation on what to do to help all the struggling families out there, but chances are they’ll just change the Nebraska law and go back to ignoring the problem. Kids with behavioral problems will continue to not receive the counseling they need and parents will continue to struggle to deal with their kids and the problems will never be resolved.