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"Abandoning" Your Teen: Teens and Safe Haven Laws

By November 13, 2008

Once Nebraska's vaguely-worded "Safe Haven" law passed, parents began to drop off their teenagers at local hospitals. Now that 30 children have been abandoned (most of them over the age of 10), the state is revising the law to state that only newborns can be abandoned without fear of prosecution.

A recent article featured a man proudly stating that he would never give up his teens, that he would courageously fight to keep his kids on the straight and narrow. The article continues on to discuss how one family sent a trouble teen to a therapeutic wilderness program, which has helped the child tremendously.

I am glad that these two families found they had the resources - emotional, mental and financial - to navigate the teen years. Additionally, I would bet that those teens weren't born addicted to drugs. I would assume that there was always plenty of food on the table for these kids. I'm guessing that there was very little (if any) physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse perpetrated on these developing children. Perhaps these parents had more than a high school education, and had ideas about how to parent in a positive way throughout that child's life. Unfortunately, these statements don't apply to all families.

I don't think that these parents who "abandoned" their teens are necessarily neglectful parents. Having seen first-hand how difficult it can be to get adequate services for a child who needs it, I understand that parent's desperation. We need to do better for these parents. I hope that Nebraska, and every state, will look at their child protective services to see what can be done for these families that are on the brink. They are hurting - parents and teens alike - and as a society we must find a way to help.

November 14, 2008 at 11:05 pm
(1) Kerry says:

It is such a complex issue, but I agree that protective services needs to do more before the parents are driven to abandoning their children. That said, I would like to see the stories of the families who dealt with their problems this way to see what, if anything, could have been done to prevent this radical choice.

Also, it is better that they abandoned the kids somewhere safe than sending them out to live on the streets where the costs to society and the individual are eventually devastating.

November 15, 2008 at 1:10 am
(2) D says:

I think there needs to be a safe, legal way of giving up an older child you can no longer care for. The abandonment itself, if done in a safe way, should not be illegal. I agree that that some people cannot understand how desperate another family may be.

November 15, 2008 at 1:51 am
(3) Randall says:

Sadly, in some states parents can now be held legally and financially liable for crimes committed by their teens. Couple that with the fact that some juvenile agencies will no longer institutionalize incorrigible children at the parents request, and what options are left to parents? We live in sad times.

November 15, 2008 at 9:13 am
(4) Laureen says:

While I agree there should be a safe way for parents who can no longer care for their older children to find resources or, as a last resort, to relinquish custody.

But the problem with this law is it made it too easy to do it without enough thought on the adults part or preparation for the kids. It gave people an easy out to a very complex situation.

Interestingly, I heard a story about this law on NPR on the day it was passed, pointing out how exactly what did happen could happen. I think it was not just a badly worded law, but it was the original, unspoken intent of lawmakers to let people abandon older children.

And as you point out many families with teens are on the brink, but the legislature should have tackled this issue directly rather than trying to tack it on a law that should have been directed at parents of infants.

But now that this law has revealed a need maybe they will.

November 15, 2008 at 3:53 pm
(5) liane says:

I agree that more services need to be available to help families and troubled teens. But I hope that this law is revised soon. I saw a report on the news about a woman who drove from Atlanta to Nebraska to drop off her teenaged son. She later changed her mind and went back to pick him. A very sad story all around.

November 17, 2008 at 9:42 am
(6) Deb says:

It’s such a sad, sad issue. When I first think of it, I’m horrified that a parent could give up a child like that, but I know from a family close to me that it can be extremely trying to raise a child with multiple behavioral issues. The mother I know tried everything she could think of, got help, but still, more than once, drove her daughter to the emergency room because she was afraid she would harm the other child in the home.

We really do need something in place to help parents like her who have exhausted all of their patience and abilities to handle the situation.

November 30, 2008 at 10:39 pm
(7) Bonnie W. says:

I totally agree with the comments about needing more resources for parents to deal with troubled teens. Children and Youth organizations were not any help for me and my daughter. Unless your child is threatening to commit suicide or threatens you with a weapon, most resources are hopelessly useless. Much more needs to be looked at. As for abandonment, there were a few times that, if I knew I could, I would have left her on someone’s doorstep.

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