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Nebraska Teens Abandoned By Frustrated Caregivers

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, September 29, 2008 9:42 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Major Medical, Safe Haven Laws, Child Abuse, Abandonment, Abandoned Children, Foster Care


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / teen in conflict / author: aldomurillo

Many pre-teens and teenagers that have been left by families at Nebraska hospitals over the last several weeks have severe behavioral problems or mental illness, according to Omaha World-Herald.

Several of the families sought help for out-of-control or violent kids, and were met unsuccessfully, reports the newspaper.

Below are just a few examples of teens left by frustrated caregivers:

» A boy, 15, diagnosed with depression and drug use. During the summer he was found carrying marijuana. He ran away from home before entering a diversion program. When officials brought him back, he began to express suicidal intentions.

The child’s guardian, also his uncle, took him to Omaha hospital for a psychiatric evaluation but the hospital refused to admit him when he said he was not suicidal.

Fearing for his life, the uncle made the decision to turn his nephew over under the new “safe haven” law in Nebraska.

» The mother of boy, 11, exhausted all of her options after her son threatened to kill her and his siblings, cited a police report. She arranged for him to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital, but he refused to take his medications.

» In another case, a boy, 15, would repeatedly punch holes into the walls of his home and throw things at school. In court records his father is described as “a psychotic drug user who has been convicted of misdemeanor child abuse,” the World-Herald reports.

The boy was staying with his aunt, when she tried to call a human services hotline “she wasn’t offered useful information.” Separately, officials with the Nebraska’s child welfare division told the aunt the state could not get involved unless the boy committed a crime.

Under Nebraska’s “safe haven” law – the last in the nation - 15 children, seven which have been teens, have been left at hospitals over the past several weeks by guardians or parents. The Nebraska safe haven law is the only law in the U.S. that does not have a set age limit on children who can be handed over to authorities – no questions asked.

Safe haven laws were originally designed for a mother to relinquish custody of her infant at a safe and secure location if she was unable to care for the baby, without fear of prosecution. But the state law includes the word “child” and fails to specify any ages.

That means that in Nebraska, someone up to the age of 19, still considered a minor, could be dropped off.

The debate now centers on the sufficiency of services available for families that have troubled kids. Advocates claim, a lack of resources prevents families from receiving the help they need.

The case receiving the most coverage is of a father of nine who dropped 9 of his 10 children off at the emergency room at the Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha last week.

His life just “fell apart”.

That’s the word from out-of-work widower Gary Staton who spoke to KETV –TV Omaha, about why he abandoned his nine children at a hospital under Nebraska’s new safe haven law.

“I hope they know I love them,” he said. “I hope their future is better without me around them.”

Many predicted the safe have law might have far reaching implications when it was put into law in July and already plans are being discussed to amend the law during the next legislative session.

It will be up to the county attorney to recommend whether the child remains in the custody of the state or returns home. A judge ultimately will decide on the placement. There is no prosecution of the father or mother, unless the children have been abused. #

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