Nebraska Must Not Change Child Safe Haven Law

Armen Hareyan's picture

Ridiculed by most of the media in the nation after passing one of the most comprehensive and sweeping child safe haven laws ever, the State of Nebraska nevertheless went ahead and signed the legislation into law. Being the last state to sign this type of legislation intended to prevent child abuse before it started, Nebraska's law goes much further than most other states in that not only infants could be dropped off at so called 'safe haven' sites such as hospitals, but the wording also permits the safe drop offs of older children as well.

Since taking effect, 16 children of varying ages have been left at safe havens. In one case, a father of nine dropped all of his children off, and the media had a field day. But while reporting on the case of Gary Staton, the father who left his kids, aged one through seventeen, at Creighton Medical Center, they didn't tell the whole story. In an attempt to titillate the reader or viewer, they merely reported the fact that the children were left, and used the case to try to illustrate why the Nebraska law was backwards and needed to be change.

Mr. Staton is a single father to those nine children. He also has another daughter, who is 18 years old, and who, after the death of her mother, became the primary caretaker of the rest of her siblings. His wife of 17 years died last year, a woman for whom Gary would have gladly given his life for. Inconsolable, he fell into a deep depression, and stopped being able to take care of himself, let alone the children, who had to depend upon each other to survive. Gary ended up losing his job, and with the bills piling up, made the decision to take advantage of the new law by taking the children somewhere that he knew they would be safe.

Not the act of some irresponsible man as the media tried to portray him, Mr. Staton did what he did out of love and concern for the well being of those children, and it was only after all of the media attention that relatives stepped forward to heroically claim the kids. Where were they before the storm gathered and the crisis of mind became intolerable for Mr. Staton?

Other kids were being left at hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln, kids a little older than one would normally expect. With the media breathing down their necks, the politicians began to backpedal and some now speak of the need to change the wording of the law. But if changed to what others may deem to be 'acceptable' age limits for children to be safely left at these havens, what will happen to the older children who are in a very bad situation? The very nature of the law was to safeguard against abuse of children, and how will any change in the law accomplish that? Will we say that we will allow for the dropping off of children up to five years old, but not children who are five years and one week?


The argument that a lot of people are struggling and must be forced to raise their own children, with the mentality of 'pulling yourself up by your boot straps' are ridiculous, and must be ignored. Because despite the way the Staton story was presented to the public, those children were clearly in danger and it took courage to recognize that and bring them to others who could and would care for them properly. The same holds true for the other kids who have been left with hospital staff. Should we force parents who are either unable or unwilling to care for their young to keep them in an environment wherein they may be subjected to neglect and abuse? Where the core values of these kids might have been warped and twisted and we allow for the raising of more maladjusted young adults set loose upon an increasingly maladjusted society? Or would it not be better to allow these young ones to have a chance at a better life?

Any time a new law is passed, especially laws that allow for an escape hatch such as this law gives, there is going to be an initial rash of people who see a chance to get themselves out of a bad situation. This is normal, and will eventually subside as more parents are made aware of other options available to them. The course to take here is a public education campaign, not a changing of the law to appease those who could care less about the safety of potentially abused children, but only in headlines or catcalling from the sidelines. Politicians are never going to please everyone with every law they pass, but in the case of Nebraska's safe haven laws that allow for greater protections for children than any other state, they clearly got it right the first time. There is no need to revisit this law, and in fact, other states would do well to adopt it.

Because in the end, if a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can have the cognizant thought that they are not doing the right thing for their children, and needs to get the child or children to safety has a place they can bring them without the draconian measures of arresting them for doing the right thing, they are twice as likely to do so before abusive behaviour begins. The same holds true for parents or guardians who are in the position of Mr. Staton, who clearly understood he was incapable of acting as a responsible parent, and out of love, let his children go. If Nebraska takes this hard fought for safety net for children away due to pressure from far right wingnuts and the media, then the State of Nebraska will be endangering the very children they wished to protect in the first place.

Maybe it's not the Nebraska law that needs to be changed, but the thinking of those who label what is intended to help children as 'abandonment' and 'shucking responsibility'. Maybe it's the mindset of those who can not imagine ever doing something like that themselves, that is, until a situation like that of Mr. Staton comes along. Maybe proponents of changing the law in Nebraska because it was intended to save kids who are in 'immediate danger' need to explicitly explain the parameters of 'immediate danger' for the rest of us. Because if leaving 9 children in the care of a depressed, overwhelmed, barely functional father is not leaving them smack dab in the middle of 'immediate danger', then we need to redefine the meaning of that phrase also. Maybe the real problem is that there aren't more laws geared towards the actual protection of children, and maybe you can force your state's legislature to adopt laws that will provide a safety net for parents BEFORE abuse starts and not after.

No. Changing Nebraska's safe haven law is not the answer. Giving it time to settle is. In this time of fiscal uncertainty, it serves to save resources in the form of less police manpower having to go on ride alongs with social workers to remove children from homes where the situation became so bad, that the children were being abused. It serves to free up those same social workers to be able to work on cases where parents don't take advantage of the law, and keep their little ones in harm's way. It serves to give unwanted kids a chance to have a happier childhood, which is then reflected in their ability to contribute to society, rather than become maladjusted criminal types who clog up our courts and cost taxpayers to house them through their adulthoods in prisons. In the words of Herbert Ward "Child abuse cast a shadow the length of a lifetime".

While this argument will probably never change the minds of those who are too short sighted to see farther down the road than the immediate future, it does hopefully give pause to the knee jerk reaction of those who are crying out the old "See, I told you so" anthem. Because while they chant that anthem over and over and try to force the State of Nebraska to tow the national child safe haven law line, I'm reminded of another anthem by Pink Floyd that goes "Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone."



I'm blogging this article - you rock for telling this side of the story! These kids need safe haven every bit as much as their parents do. If only this law could be extended to all kids everywhere.
Just another instance of our society trying to care for weak individuals who lack the spirit, drive and sense of obligation to care for themselves and their offspring. (just the fact that he had so many children shows that he's irresponsible) Society cannot afford to continue to extend its safety net, always trying to care for more and more "disabled", homeless, jobless etc. We have become a country of stark contrasts-on the one hand being too conservative with our religious fundamentalism, war-mongering, etc and on the other with our ridiculous welfare mentality, safety obsessions, etc. We have lost our middle-ground. This is just another law frees individuals from facing the consequences of their actions. Life is fraught with dangers, risks, consequences and these must be faced by the individuals affected. We can only afford to take on the most needy and compelling cases. Government and society cannot do it all. Government is you and me. It is like a lifeboat in a stormy sea. If we take too many aboard it will sink the whole ship!
Yeah you tell them.... darn weak individuals need to take care of themselves! Given the individuals being protected are children and infants..they need to pull themselves up by their booties, tighten their diapers and fend for themselves!
You need help!!!!!! The children are the ones who are being hurt here and you are saying they should not have been born because they should not have had that may kids. Some people have that may kids because they love kids and can take care of them, but the mans wife died and you are saying his is irresponsible because he can know longer take care of his kids. Did you consider that maybe they were well cared for before his wife (and their mother) died? I hope your kids have a heart none like you.......
the top anonymous is an idiot.
Re: This law is going too far Is your mental view so entrenched you can't actually think about the children's needs? You whine about how society is caring for "weak individuals who lack spirit" because you're mad at the father. But what about the kids? Is it better to punish the kids by forcing them to stay with a father who is unfit to take care of them? Is that really what you'd prefer just so you can be up on your high horse proving your point about how you think parents should be different? If you had your way, the real individuals facing the consequences would be the CHILDREN.
Dear Anonymous: If this is not a needy and compelling case, then what would be? Why don't we just ship all the kids to Wasilla where they can help sort books at the library? Or something like that, you know,something responsible and has spirit, drive and a sense of obligation. I guess you are just very lucky to have been born into a situation where you will never need anything from anyone because you are so responsible. This is a complex problem and you cite some kind of elitist rhetoric as a solution, You don't even seem to know that your ideology was hijacked by Neo-Cons about 8 years ago. There's something fundamentally impossible with a system that encourages child bearing without the kind of support to train all the babies to be self sufficient and responsible. Making babies and raising them are two very different sets of skills. If raising kids is viewed as punishment for making them, you cannot solve the problem.
People are shocked that parents would abandon their children. What would have happened to these children who were left at hospitals if they had stayed with their parents? Would we then be reading headline- 'Widower Kills his 9 Children- Psychiatrist says man had psychotic break'? I would much rather read headline 'Parent Utilizes Safe Haven Law to Keep Kids Safe'.
These are not parents who are ditching the kids to buy a new car, many of these kids are seriously messed up and without some sort of care are going to end up in jail or dead.
I couldn't have said it better myself. I wish this message would be shared in our media. It illustrates the great need of kids and families. Fear of retaliation and fear of failure prevent those who need help from asking for and receiving that help. I wonder if any lawmakers will be able to learn the real lesson here.
I speak around the United States about Child Death and soon am coming to Nebraska. I thought I would do a little research about the Nebraska law!!! I can not wipe the tears fast enough...I have never and I can say never seen or heard of such a wonderful act by a state. This is truely taking care of your own. We send money and food to so many other countries when right here is such a large problem. United we stand and Divided we fall applies to taking care of each other in all situations. Weak are strengthen by the strong and the strong are humbled by the weak. This truely will be stated in all of my seminars about the pride Nebraska has for taking care of their own. We should all be proud. This is so unreal...I really can not say how proud this would make me of my example you have set
This abandonment of children in Nebraska under what can only be described as an extremely lenient Safe Haven law is a sad statement on society indeed. Yes, being a parent of any child is a huge challenge- there's no denying that. The Nebraska law does nothing to address the notion that sometime parents get overwhelmed and need some kind of support network. I think that the people who wrote the law had the best of intentions, but there are other ways to protect kids that don't involved them getting abandoned by their parents when the child is a teenager! Clearly the system that was in place is broken because there are state programs that can provide medical cars, help paying for daycare, parental coaching and support, yet a lot of the people involved seemed to not be aware that these programs even existed! So perhaps the state could do outreach to regions where these kids seem to be coming from to inform people that abandoning your child because you can't deal with them or can't afford to take care of them isn't the only solution available to fix the situation. I mean, it's all fine and well to expect that people should pick themselves up by their bootstraps; but what does a barefoot person do in that instance? Just hang on and hope for the best? Dump their kids off at the hospital because they don't know what else to do? I'm hopeful that the law will be written to stem this wave of older-child abandonment and then put forth some better solutions to fix the problems that this law has exposed.
I remember the "bad media" covering the whole story ... and the reason why the 9 children were dropped off at the same time. But really, go on ... make excuses.
I'd like to see in a couple years how much Nebraska has had to spend on residential treatment for these kids. A lot of the older ones probably have behavioral difficulties, which obviously aren't helped by being abandoned.
And yet, gay marriage and gays adopting it's a problem, because it's bad for the children, because a kid needs a family and family it's all about a man and a woman, a perfect family, that is...yeah, those gays are the problem, they're really trying to destroy families...