Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Keeping the Buggers In Line: In Defense of Nebraska's Safe Haven Law

The state of Nebraska has become the subject of many jokes over the years (sort of like the way folks in the deep South like to say "thank God for Mississippi"). After all, it is Nebraska, as flat as an ironing board and about as much attraction to the average person as a solar eclipse. And its safe haven law is under fire, for allowing parents to desert teenagers at state hospitals, instead of newborn babies (as the law was intended).

Boy could be 23rd child abandoned at Neb. hospital

By NELSON LAMPE, Associated Press Writer

OMAHA, Neb. – A 17-year-old boy left at a hospital in Lincoln, Neb., may be counted as the 23rd child abandoned under the state's unique safe-haven law.

Lincoln police say the boy's parents took him to BryanLGH Medical Center West late Tuesday.

Police Capt. Jim Thoms says the parents told officers the boy wouldn't follow their rules and that they couldn't afford some programs he needed.

If the boy's status is confirmed Wednesday, he would be the 23rd child abandoned under the law.

Nebraska's safe-haven law is the only one in the country that lets caregivers leave children as old as 18 at a state-licensed hospital without fear of prosecution for the abandonment.

Gov. Dave Heineman called a news conference for later Wednesday and said he would address the safe-haven law. His spokeswoman would not confirm whether Heineman would be calling a special session to change the law.

A majority of state senators have agreed to revise the law so that only infants up to 3 days old could be dropped off.

I hate to sound like a contrarian, but people are not paying attention to some of the advantages of this law. We live in a society today that does not allow for the disciplining of youth. As reactionary as this may seem, one of the reasons I almost never acted up around my parents growing up was because I knew my father would not hesitate to beat me. Yes, beat me. My bleeding heart dad. The man did not tolerate any disrespect towards my mother (who opposed all forms of corporal punishment, including the type my dad meted out), and he made it clear that if we did something that was a spankable offense (which was always spelled out for us ahead of time), we were going to get it. My older brother and sister were not infrequently disciplined because of this. I was not and while it was partially because I knew how to hide my rebellion better than my older siblings, it was also because I did not openly defy my parents. I did not want to face the consequence of that defiance.

Today's kids know that there are no consequences. When my nieces and nephews talk about schools giving "timeouts," it reminds me of my public city elementary school as a child, which had a policy of paddling you if you ran in the hallways or talked during lunch. There is little a parent can do anymore with an errant child, except wait for them to break the law and get themselves thrown in jail. You have to concede that nothing could potentially scare straight the hardiest of youth than the threat of being dumped in a place like Nebraska. When I first read this story over the summer, admittedly, I laughed to myself, thinking, "Now surely that would be worse than any spanking!" I know, I am a terrible person for thinking such things. I grew up in the '70s and '80s. We were beaten and played on concreted jungle gyms.

On top of that, it has also allowed people who are economically distressed to have some relief, and giving the child welfare agencies an opportunity to process the kids into homes with the resources and time to care for these children. Why is it that we focus our outrage on the teenagers? Millions of them already run away from home each year. Now the parents have an equalizer. I am not saying that I could ever do something like this, I do not believe I could, but it is not the devil incarnate, either. If anything, Nebraska deserves some credit for being so forward looking, even if they repeal the law or re-write it for the newborns.

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