Stunned at their state suddenly becoming the nation’s doorstep for unwanted children, Nebraska officials announced last month that they plan to change a new law that has prompted people to abandon 18 minors, ranging in age from 20 months to 17 years.
Citing “serious, unintended consequences,” Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood (R) announced that 40 of the state’s 49 unicameral senators have agreed to amend the state’s safe haven law so that it will cover only infants up to 3 days old.
The law, enacted in July, is unique in that it allows any person to drop off any minor at a state-licensed hospital without fear of prosecution for abandonment. Fourteen states with safe-haven laws set the age limit for infants at 1 month, and only two states accept children up to age 1.
The earliest a change could be implemented is at the beginning of the 2009 legislative session in January, unless a special session is called.
The governor’s office also said the state has launched a multimedia campaign to make Nebraskans aware of the services available to families dealing with children’s behavioral issues and other challenges.
Most parents and guardians of children abandoned under the new law have cited unmanageable mental health issues, exacerbated by a lack of treatment resources. About half of the abandoned children were former wards of the state who had been adopted or permanently placed with guardians.