Nebraska learns a lesson in unintended consequences.

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.

8 thoughts on “Nebraska learns a lesson in unintended consequences.

  1. Think about what it must feel like to be 12/13/14 and have your parents say they will abandon you, and actually carry through with it…

  2. Well, except for newborns, people do ignore the problems of parents.  I mean, it is all our fault for having sex in the first place. Right?  What I don’t understand is why a newborn is so much more deserving of protection over, say an older child such as a toddler or preschooler.  They get abused too because they aren’t wanted.  Look at poor Caylee Anthony…her mom didn’t want her…even wanted to have an abortion…

    Sorry…feminist side came out right there…


    What a lot of families need is FAMILY counseling.  Many times a child acts out as a direct result of how the parents are acting whether it be abuse or neglect and the parents may not even realize it.  They don’t know how to talk to their kids and the kids don’t trust them.  I know because I am currently in counseling myself and can see how I treat my kids is a direct result of how I was treated when I was a kid.  My kids are still young so I hope I can be a better parent than my mother was.

    The keep saying that parents need to look at other resources…but they don’t realize that many times these so called resources aren’t helpful either because they have so many cases that it is hard to get to new ones or there aren’t many resources in someones area OR they just don’t know where to turn!  Maybe if they advertised these so called resources that parents can turn to for help they wouldn’t feel like abandoning a child…and then treat the whole family, not just the child.

    Just my 2cents…

  3. As far as legislation is concerned, chances are that laws are either written too narrowly to hit all the designated targets or too broadly to avoid collateral damage. For all my dislike of politicians, this is one instance where I cut them some slack and reserve judgment until the first round of remedial legislation.

    And what Sandy and Les said. I simply assume that 99% of state legislation is the result of litigation or bad PR and while I don’t know specifically what triggered the Michigan legislation, I would guess that a few broadly published instances of infanticide or infant neglect/abuse did it. Similar legislation exists in other countries (Germany comes to mind) and all things considered, parents using these laws probably make the least sucky choice in their situation. It’s too bad that comprehensive social services appear to be a non-starter in the U.S….

  4. Wow Moloch, that was an unusually compassionate sounding comment from you. The same thought had occurred to me as well. It’s gotta be rough to be a teenager and have a parent drive you to another state in hopes of handing your ass over to the government.

    Sandy, I concur and I probably should have mentioned family counseling in my entry.

    Elwed, the legislation was in Nebraska. Michigan does have a safe haven law, but it’s limited to newborns 72 hours old or younger. You can look up your state’s safe haven laws at the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

  5. It’s gotta be rough to be a teenager and have a parent drive you to another state in hopes of handing your ass over to the government.

    I should cancel the plane tickets then?

    Couple of years back when my kids would have been 10 and 8, there came a yell “Dad, he’s trying to kill me”  My (then) 18 year old stepson pointed out the response “Will it be quieter?” was probably not what I should have said.

    I can see parents who have lost control over their teen kids (not bad parents, just difficult teens) doing this as a shock thing. You know they are going to be safe, and from the leaflet I saw, will probably get them back, but 72 hours breathing space may seem like a good idea.  Wait till someone with a full family life and a senile parent tries it “He’s paid his taxes all his life- you do it”.

  6. Ditto Moloch. That was my first reaction too.

    My second one was we need more social services and people that don’t feel odd about making use of them.

    Third, I really wish people would consider using birth control, morning after pill, and what having a child does to one’s life. Really, it’s okay to think about having a kid and it’s okay to not have kids. Consider your situation first. I think God could care less, especially if you can’t manage it or are thinking of giving it up.

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