Tuesday, October 21, 2008

To Abandon A Child

OK, this has nothing necessarily to do with my own family, but I woke up to a story on the news this morning and felt the urge to comment. I don't know how many of my NJ friends have heard about this because I've only heard about it here in Iowa. Apparently, the Nebraska legislature passed a "safe haven" law in July, where a parent can drop off a child at a hospital and effectively abandon them, no questions asked. Several other states have such laws -- the idea is to give mothers an option besides tossing their newborn in a trash dumpster if they feel they can't care for it.

Nebraska was different, however, because they opened the law up to any minor, which in Nebraska is up to age 19. So, in the last three months, 18 "children" -- about half of them teens or pre-teens -- have been left at Nebraska hospitals by their parents. One unfortunate widower left 9 kids, aged 1 to 17. Just in the last few days, a woman drove from Michigan to Omaha to drop off her teenage son. Now, some Nebraska lawmakers have decided this wasn't such a good idea and want to change the law to specify that the children involved need to be no more than 3 days old.

I had quite a swirl of thoughts and emotions about this issue flying through my head this morning lying in bed.

To begin with, I think it's pretty hysterical that the Nebraska state legislature would think a law like this is a good idea. Was there nobody in this large group of relatively intelligent human beings that foresaw such consequences and was able to sound the alarm? Or did somebody sound it and find themselves ignored?

Then the whole question of the wisdom of a "safe haven" law, even for newborns, troubles me. No, I don't want babies dying in trash dumpsters, but I'm not convinced this is the best solution to the problem. Although, I can't say I know what is the best solution . . .

Then, my attention turns to these families dropping off their teenagers. I'm not sure what to think of these parents. Apparently, most of them said that they were simply unable to handle their children anymore. Obviously, without knowing the specifics of each situation it's hard to judge each case. Yeah, maybe some of them are truly deadbeat loser parents who just won't take responsibility for their kids. But if they're this big of a deadbeat, might the kids indeed be better off in another home? Or perhaps the parents have drug or mental issues. The reason the legislature opened up the law to older minors was in the hopes of alleviating abuse situations.

Or perhaps this parent is genuinely trying to do the right thing and just doesn't have it in them. We all, probably, are aware of some family where the out-of-control, rebellious teenage son is three times the size of his meek, fearful single mom and she has no chance of keeping him in line. I think it's possible that, for some of these parents, this was the most difficult and courageous thing they could have done to help their kids. Again, without knowing the details of each case (which we don't know, because of the "no questions asked" part of this law), it's hard to judge.

And what can you imagine is going through the hearts and minds of these children? It's a sad, sad situation.

I remember when I taught high school, I worked in the at-risk student program, with the kids who were one step away from dropping out of high school altogether. I don't know how many times I called parents to talk about a problem with their student and heard, "They're out of my control. I can't do anything about them. You're completely on your own." So sad.

Back in those years, I remember feeling a calling to not only teach, but to specifically do something to help families like that. Somehow, as I started raising my own children, that fell to the background. Justifiably so, I guess. And actually, I probably needed to go through the struggles of parenting myself before I could really help anyone else anyway. Lord knows how many of the harsh words I spoke about parents back then that I have eaten in the last 12 years!

Anyway, my own personal issues aside, I would love to hear what anyone else thinks about the safe haven situation. As I said, I'm torn in a lot of different directions here . .


mamaofive said...

I think this is a sign of the days we live Gwen. But where sin abounds grace abounds even the more by people who live the gospel. I just met a woman who adopted a boy 2 years ago who is 19 now and put him through a private school in the senior year after he grew up in Camden and he went to have the best grades and was the best athlete that year and now is in the military. This is not the best of this story. This boy let his sister know (because she was also abandoned and living with friends) about his new mom and dad and you know what, they adopted her in March at 18!! She is studying to become a teacher. Very difficult situation, but these people show Christ in very real ways...I pray the Lord gives us the courage to do his will in this kind of things and to be bold.

Anonymous said...

I remember a movie that had a quote that was something like this: You have to take test and/or go to school to get certain jobs or even to drive a car, but they let just anyone be a parent.
People are free to raise their children anyway they want. The problem with that is a lot of people don't become parents. Being a parent is so much more than just being able to have a child. Parenting is hard work. We live in a lazy society where people don't want to do the hard work so when the going gets tough the weak drop their kids off in Nebraska.
I believe the law in Nebraska had good intentions, but I believe the crazy part is the people who have children and abuse/abandon/murder their children would never consider taking that child to a drop off point. It sounds like we need different services to help greiving widows and overwhelmed parents work through their problems or get parental counseling. The probelm with my solution is the weak parents probably don't want to take the time to get help, for them to help their children.
What happens to runaways or kids who are just "kicked out" of their parents house? Where do they go? When a parent decides to take their child to Nebraska to a safe drop off as opposed to just kicking them out to live on the streets or with friends which is better?
I obviously don't have a clear cut answer either, too many variables.
I think the answer is as complicated and individual as each child, the parent and the situation.

DerricksAHor said...

Hey Gwen,

Yeah, we in NJ heard this story too. I didn't think much of it.

I wonder what this kind of law will mean for the changing politics of Nebraska.

When Navy men were released for serving as openly gay, they were discharged to San Francisco. Boy, have they done wonders for the place.

Maybe these abandoned children will leave their special marks on Nebraska--like a strong focus on early childhood education. Or maybe a renewed emphasis on individuality and personal creativity? Maybe the next generation of entrepreneurs will arise from these bleak circumstances? Maybe a world embracing of diversity rather than divisive issues indoctrinated from the home?

One can only hope for the best.

Why only hope? Because I think this sort of thing ought to be allowed. Why? Look at the flood of children since the law began. These are children who were abandoned immediately once it was made legal. By virtue of that very fact, it's clear there are homes in America where parents are choosing early independence over abuse for their children. Any situation where abuse can be traded for care must be embraced.

Cultures leave their marks on the areas they inhabit. Whatever children leave, I hope it's cool.