A Dark Fairy Tale for Modern Children

Once Upon a Time… The fine State of Nebraska had a Safe Haven law that allowed parents to leave their children in a variety of safe, warm, supervised places (hospitals, police and fire departments, etc) without being prosecuted for abandonment.

And… for a brief time, it didn’t matter how old the child was. From Birth to the Age of Majority, the question wasn’t why it was Is the child safe?

I knew from the beginning, of course, that the law would wind up being changed. It had to be. For one, the foster care system wasn’t set up to handle it. And raising children–even on a state-run budget–is expensive. Very expensive, when you realize that people from across the country would wind up driving to Nebraska to leave their kids.

And I knew that the age range in the law was an oversight. No one intended to create the most liberal safe-haven law in the country. They just couldn’t pin down a good way of being sure how old a baby was.

It didn’t last long. Ten weeks and 36 kids.

That was nearly nine years ago.

And every time I hear about another abused child, another neglected child, another desperate child, I think about that law. It was an idealistic law… an under-prepared law… a financially strapped law… But it was a good law.

Every child deserves to be safe. Warm. Fed. Educated.

And if there’s a parent saying I can’t do this, isn’t it better to give him a break, let her step back, get them help, or give them a way out before something bad happens?

I just don’t want to  should be enough. I can’t should be enough.

It was below zero, last time. Enough windchill to make the news. Sleeting rain freezing to the fence posts and traffic signs.

The neighbors called the police because of the noise.

Eleven year old. His mother locked him out in the weather, and he was pounding on the storm door–trying to break it down, they say–because he was freezing. He just wanted to be inside. Where it was warm.

They asked his mother why, and she said she didn’t want him, anymore.

Why doesn’t matter. We need a Safe Haven Law. We need to stop pretending that child-welfare isn’t a matter of life-or-death. We need to have beds for these children before they’re half-frozen on a night so cold that even church is cancelled.

The children need a place to go. They shouldn’t have to wait until something bad happens.

Some of them can’t wait until something bad happens.

Imagine, for instance, if this woman had decided it was her toddler she didn’t want anymore.


  1. Reply

    I’ve read about this law before and I completely agree with you–with one addition: nobody can ever be sure they’re ready to be a parent until they’re already living it. We should treat parents who are struggling or who simply can’t do it with compassion. We don’t know their life, their burdens. And most importantly, we don’t know how well we would do in their shoes.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. Here’s hoping it will be a while before you have to think about this law again.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: