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1,000 miles from home

A Georgia mother is the latest to abandon a child in Nebraska under a new state law.

October 28, 2008|Nicholas Riccardi | Riccardi is a Times staff writer.

A woman drove from suburban Atlanta to Nebraska this weekend to leave her 12-year-old son at a hospital, making him the 20th child abandoned under a unique state law that has raised questions across the country about overwhelmed parents.

Since July, Nebraska has allowed parents to leave children younger than 18 at medical facilities without facing criminal penalties.

The law was intended to allow parents to relinquish unwanted infants, but officials have been shocked to see it used more often by parents of adolescents, not all of them from Nebraska.

The mother of the 12-year-old boy abandoned Saturday night was the third parent from another state to travel to Nebraska to give up a child.

Gov. Dave Heineman and leaders of Nebraska's state Senate have promised to rewrite the law when the Legislature reconvenes in January to make it apply only to babies up to 3 days old.

But the steady influx of abandoned teens -- almost all of the children have been between 11 and 17, and none have been infants -- has led some to call for a swifter revision.

Nebraska state Sen. Arnie Stuthman, a co-author of the so-called Safe Haven Law, said in an interview that it had opened his eyes to the need for more help for struggling parents.

"We need to see what services are available for people in this situation," Stuthman said. "Those people who are in need of help need it now -- not in 30 days."

The mother of the boy abandoned this weekend, who has not been identified, told the Lincoln Journal Star that she had hoped to send her son to Boys Town, where she spent two years as a teen.

She said the boy had gotten into trouble at school and with the law, and that efforts to find help in Georgia were fruitless. She also had tried to send him to relatives in other states.

Finally, her mother in Detroit told her about Nebraska's new law.

"I've been fighting so long," the woman told the newspaper. "I can't fight any longer."

The first out-of-state parents who abandoned a child in Nebraska came from Council Bluffs in neighboring Iowa this month; a mother drove to Omaha from Michigan weeks later to abandon her child. Both children are back in their home states.

The other youths abandoned under the law are all Nebraskans, including nine children left by their father after the death of his longtime wife. Some are in the state's foster-care system and others have been returned to relatives, officials said.

Although the Safe Haven Law absolves parents of criminal responsibility for abandoning their children, they still may be liable for child support, counseling or abuse charges for past behavior, said Kathie Osterman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"If they're having issues with their teenagers, this is not what they want to be doing," she said.

County lawyers in Nebraska filed papers Monday to place the abandoned Georgia boy in the state's child-care system. His overwhelmed Smyrna, Ga., mother told the Lincoln Star Journal that the Nebraska law was her only hope, and she didn't want it rewritten.

"Please don't change [the law] to be for only infants," she said. "Please truly help young parents in every state. Make safe havens more available."


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