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18th Nebraska abandonment

A mother drives from Michigan to leave her son, 13, at a hospital in Omaha under the state safe-haven law.

October 14, 2008|From the Associated Press

OMAHA — 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 the 18th child overall abandoned in the state since the law took effect in July.

"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.

There was no sign the boy was in immediate danger before he was abandoned early Monday, but an investigation into the boy's situation was continuing, Landry said.

The boy has been placed in an emergency shelter. Landry said the family doesn't appear to have ties to Nebraska and he wasn't sure if the family had sought help in Michigan first.

State officials have met with the boy's mother, Landry said, but she wouldn't immediately address her reasons for leaving her son. He said he believed the boy's parents were married but wasn't sure if the father had agreed to the decision.

"Regardless of why or how, our focus remains on the safety of the child," he said.

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.

Nebraska's safe-haven law is unlike similar laws in that it allows anyone, not just a parent, to drop off a child, of any age, at any state-licensed hospital without fear of prosecution for abandonment. The law doesn't absolve anyone of charges such as abuse or neglect.

In Nebraska, several of the parents or guardians who have left children cited behavioral problems. An out-of-work widower who left nine of his 10 children said he simply felt overwhelmed by his responsibilities. That man, Gary Staton, has asked a judge to allow him to visit his children.

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 was guarantee an abandoned child could be returned to them if they change their minds. They have encouraged parents to seek other resources before abandoning their children.

Lawmakers have spoken about the need to reexamine 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 was needed to specifically address infants in danger. Two children coming from out of state was 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."

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