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SHAME on Nebraska!- When ‘we told you so,’ barely begins to scratch the surface

This is the first post in an ongoing growing body of work I have done criticizing Nebraska’s legalized child abandonment laws. You can find the rest of my posts about the (de)evolving situation via my Nebraska tag.

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It’s long past time for Nebraska to repeal the worst baby dump law in the country.

Fortunately pencils come with two ends, one of which is for erasing mistakes.

As of Saturday, Nebraska has become the ‘legally dump your teen!’ capital of the United States.

This past weekend exactly what many of us who have opposed Nebraska’s “baby safe haven” law had predicted unfortunately came to pass. (This is yet another of those circumstances wherein I just don’t want to be right.)

Less than two months after the law went into effect, kids over the age of ten were dumped. In separate incidents, the first two kids dumped under Nebraska’s new law were two boys, one age 11, the other age 15, both were “(baby) safe havened” at Nebraska hospitals.

Clearly “Baby safe haven”, in Nebraska at least, is terminology gone null and void. While baby imagery abounds from the insipid little ducky on the safe haven Nebraska myspace page to the smiling youngster’s faces on the National Safe Haven Alliance page or their signs,

the latest unsmiling dumpees faces are instead, those of tweens and teens. (But then, it’s kinda hard to get a teen’s head held cutely in the palm of a hand… .)

Last July, Nebraska’s insane dump law went into effect, allowing anyone having physical custody of a “child” (up to age 19, one hell of a redefinition of “child!” and how in the heck does one ‘have custody’ of a 18 year old anyway?) to legally abandon said “child” at specified drop off sites.

Those of us who have opposed dump laws from back in the days of the nation’s first, (in Texas under then Governor Bush, then called a “baby Moses law,”) were quick to point out that Nebraska’s dump scheme would inevitably, sooner or later, result in teens and pre-teens being dumped, likely by ‘overwhemed’, or “economically disadvantaged” adults. Well, sure enough, less than two months in, guess who shows up at the hospitals as Nebraska’s first dumps?

Meet Nebraska’s newest ‘precious little dumplings’, via an article entitled Unruly juveniles given up under ’safe haven’ law out of Monday’s Omaha World Herald,

The 2-month-old law was used twice Saturday, both times by people leaving misbehaving adolescents with whom they could no longer cope.

An 11-year-old boy was dropped off Saturday afternoon at Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha. A few hours later, a 15-year-old boy was left at Bryan LGH Medical Center West in Lincoln.

Both boys are now in the custody of the State Department of Health and Human Services.

Which is to say neither of these dumped kids were ever in any danger of being killed by those who had custody of them, the usual superficial justification for baby Moses laws nationwide. No kids lives were saved by these dumps.

These were nothing more than ‘good-riddance’ dumps, dumps that finally cut to the core, saying far more about those dumping the kids, and the state that enables such, than about any of the pretenses any of these laws are enacted under.

Now, where do you suppose the idea to dump at least one of the two kids came from? Why a ‘helpful’ “counselor” of course!

The aunt said that the boy had behavioral problems and that a counselor had suggested that she take him to the hospital under the safe haven law.

This is what happens when dump laws get woven into the fabric of ’support’ services. Can’t deal with the 15 year old you have legal custody of? No problem, just get rid of him, Nebraska will be happy to take said kid off your hands.

One really has to question the credentials of any “counselor” whose ’solution’ to dealing with a teen with ‘behavioral problems’ is to legally abandon the kid, legally relinquishing all custody of said child. Really think about that, the ‘counselor’s’ ’solution’ was to say ‘get rid of the kid once and for all.’ The Aunt went along with the advice. Just how was the ’safe haven’ law presented to her? Was it sold similarly to how many parents have lost children to adoption, as merely a ‘temporary break while you sort things out’?

Reporters on the ground should be asking the basic questions about the string of events that led to the kid being dumped. To date, though, I don’t see that anyone has.

One of the more troubling aspects of the dump laws nationally has been how the information is presented to the prospects, be that via ‘counseling’ or as ‘how to dump a kid’ get woven into school curriculums.

Both of these dumped kids are now ‘fine examples’ of what Bill Pierce, the (now deceased) former head of, and founder of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and early baby Moses law advocate, once referred to as “non-bureaucratic placement(s)”.

The kids get dumped, but unlike traditional terminations of parental rights and potentially eventual adoptions, in the cases of dumped kids, parental rights are simply cut without any of the usual ‘messy paperwork’ or waiting periods to slow the process.

(Now these boys being less than desirable adoption fodder, what with being termed ‘unruly juveniles’ and all, odds are pretty slim they’d be finding a new adoptive home within the week. Young, cute, and perhaps less verbal dumplings on the other hand, are in high demand, with phone calls coming in wanting to adopt almost from the first mention on many local newscasts.)

As for NCFA itself, it is an industry trade group and lobby founded in 1980, as a direct reaction to the 1979/1980 Carter administration’s Draft Model State Adoption Act (DMSAA) which had called for restoring records access by adoptees to their own adoption records. NCFA was created very specifically by industry interests to derail and defeat the open records provisions of the DMSAA.

Similar to NCFA’s reactionary founding, Pierce and NCFA became early promoters of baby Moses laws in the wake of Oregon’s historic Measure 58 (passed in 1998, tied up in legal challenges until 2000), the statewide referendum that restored records access to adult adoptees, as a strategic means of circumventing the open records victory.

After all, how can one have open records when there are no records to get? Baby Moses laws ensure that children, particularly newborns and infants, are relinquished in a ‘paperfree’ manner, and made available almost immediately for fast track adoptions. Nebraska’s law goes further, allowing for those in possession of “children” up to age 19, to abandon them.

To quote the Bastard Nation position piece on legalized abandonments,

Bastard Nation believes that it is no coincidence that Safe Haven laws have been enacted just as the efforts of Bastard Nation and other adoptee civil rights activists have begun to overturn archaic state laws which seal our records from us. One prominent sealed records lobbyist wrote recently that “disappearing privacy rights” [records access] “has led most States to pass Safe Haven laws so that women and their babies have a life-saving option of anonymously taking a baby to a hospital or other safe place.” Safe Haven laws, we believe, are simply a tool to codify secret relinquishment and adoption.

This is elaborated upon in Bastard Nation’s 2003 piece, RESPONSE TO UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: “SAFE HAVEN” LAWS ARE CAUSING PROBLEMS NOT SOLVING THEM,

While these programs and campaigns can take on a life of their own, their impetus in large part has come from conservative and highly influential adoption lobbyists such as retired National Council for Adoption President and CEO Dr. William Pierce who for over 20 years has opposed identity rights and records access for adult adoptees. It came as no surprise to us, then, when Dr. Pierce, complaining about “disappearing privacy rights in adoption” wrote last year that Safe Haven laws are a direct response to the successful movement to overturn outdated sealed records laws in the US.[1]

(Footnote , 1 William J. Pierce, “European Court of Human Rights may overturn French law that promised women confidentiality in adoption,” Extra! October 9, 2002, (url to the citation off the now dead IAVAAN.org site) Dr. Pierce is also the Director of the Richard C. Stillman Foundation for Adoption which has given modest grants to the pioneering Baby Moses Project in Texas and AMT Children of Hope Foundation Infant Burial Fund, a Safe Haven powerhouse in New York State. 990-PF Form, IRS Return of Private Foundation, 2000, 10; Activity Report, The Richard C. Stillman Foundation for Adoption 1996-1999, 10)

Bill Pierce always viewed his baby Moses laws work as crucial to and within the broader context of his anti-abortion work. In short he viewed adoption as a zero-sum-game way of working against abortion. (Pierce was a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute, heading their office in Washington, D.C.) He was also the first national vice president of ‘Democrats for Life’ one can still find a few mentions of his position in places such as this for example.

(All of which is to say, abortion access supportive individuals and organizations who have been misled into supporting baby Moses laws under the false application of the label “privacy’ take note, the real push for such, and ultimately beneficiaries of such laws are NOT those who support abortion access.)

The termination of parental rights via dump takes on important dimensions in at least one of these two Nebraska cases, as the 15 year old was dropped by his Aunt. While the boy’s mother may be dead, the father may still have held some parental rights at the time of the dump,

The 15-year-old was dropped at Bryan LGH off by his aunt, who became the child’s legal guardian after the boy’s mother died. Landry said HHS had helped facilitate the guardianship but did not have an active case.

As for the 11 year old, he was apparently an adoptee, who due to Nebraska’s insipid law, ended up in more or less a ‘returns department’ when his adopters no longer wanted him,

The 11-year-old boy was left at Immanuel by his adoptive mother, who said the boy had some behavioral problems. He had moved here from out of state and had been adopted by relatives. Landry said that HHS had helped the original state with the adoption but that the case is no longer active.

So there you have it, don’t like the kid you adopted? No problem, Nebraska now has a ‘warentee period’ of up to 19 years, wherein dissatisfied adopters can simply dump the no longer desirable child.

‘Fortunately’, the policy applies equally to biological children. No longer want the kid you popped out? Nebraska is your dream destination.

But should we really have expected less than the single most extreme “baby Moses law” in the country from Bill Pierce’s home state of Nebraska, final stop for somewhere between six and seven thousand kids on the orphan trains, the 75 year long (eugenic) child redistribution scheme, and a state where Boys Town is a major tourist destination?

Boys Town, Nebraska 2008 Large

Nebraska had held the proud distinction of having been the final hold out state, the last of all fifty to enact these deplorable bills that circumvent all notions of best practice. In part, precisely because Nebraska has had such a long history with and awareness of forms of child welfare experimentation. With a mere nine years between the first bill in Texas through to the final state to fall, Nebraska, the gutting of traditional child relinquishments was complete, nationwide.

What we have to show for that sorry mess is a 15 year old dumped, as but the latest of a wave of nationwide relinquishments, usually done at least in theory if not in practice, “anonymously” thereby creating a whole new set of ‘legally abandoned’ potential and actual adoptees.

The Nebraska bill had been stalled, until the original provision, limiting the age of the potential dumpee downward towards newborns was changed to the current abomination.

State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he had not anticipated that many older children would be dropped off when he agreed to remove the age limit in the original safe haven proposal.

Other articles such as this from the Daily Nebraskan, Safe haven law raises abandonment concerns shed further light on the thinking, (or lack thereof) at the time,

Arnie Stuthman, a Nebraska state senator from Platte Center, Neb., proposed the bill. He said including older children in the law wasn’t in the original bill, but he “compromised” and added the provision in hopes of preventing child abuse.

Before the bill passed, objections were raised.

The Nebraska Children’s Home Society, ( see for example, this PDF from their web page, and this article, NE Children’s Home Society opposes safe havens) and Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization has tirelessly fought baby Moses laws both in Nebraska (see BASTARD NATION’S SUBMITTED TESTIMONY: OPPOSITION TO NEBRASKA LB 6–SAFE HAVEN 1/19/07) and in state after state.

Perhaps more importantly, go read Marley Greiner’s (The Executive Chair of Bastard Nation) personal blog Bastardette, and her series of posts about precisely this inevitability. Ms Greiner has been tracking Baby dumps (via her personally published “Baby Dump News: A Weekly Chronicle of Baby Abandonment”), and working against the scourge of baby Moses laws/baby dump laws nationwide with Bastard Nation for years now.

Keeping in mind that Nebraska’s baby Moses law took effect July 18th, 08. She saw what was coming and Cassandra-like tried to warn of the new law’s likely effect. Unfortunately her warning fell on the deaf ears of those either convinced that Nebraska’s impending child welfare disaster was either a good thing, or never going to occur.

NEBRASKA”S NEW BABY DUMP LAW: BETTER THAN RITILAN Friday, February 29, 2008

NEBRASKA SAFE HAVEN LAW: TIRED OF YOUR KID Thursday, July 17, 2008

HEGEL SMILES: NEBRASKA’S NO FAULT DUMP Saturday, July 19, 2008

Also be sure to glance through some of the Bastard Nation materials on babydumps, it’s become positively ‘quaint’ to look back on the days when the fear was that with increasing age windows on dumps, oh horror, TODDLERS might be dumped!

See, as but a few examples,

BN’s position on Legalized Baby Abandonment,

BN’s early statement on Legalized Abandoment Laws from back in 2000,

the BN action alert on such also from 2000

BN opposing the raising of dump ages back in 2004 in this piece, entitled Oh No! Toddler Dumps!

Marley and BN warned over and over of how Pierce’s perverse dream of ” non-bureaucratic placements” and demand for ever rising age limitations would sooner or later result in abandoned teens. Within nine years of the nation’s first dump law(1999) that dark future is here, now. We’ve moved from the legal possibility to an actual “legally abandoned” 15 year old.

While tween and teen dumps may elicit unwarranted ’shock,’ and may even bring Nebraska lawmakers back to revisit the bill (See the Sept 15th AP piece, 2 boys left at Neb. hospitals under ‘haven’ law, in which State Sen. Stuthman and others are quoted as being “open to revisiting the legislation”) the unseen and often unvoiced full horror of the law is that it intentionally encourages legalizes child abandonment AND effectively works to short circuit the fundamental identity rights of adoptees.

The full consequences of which cannot be given first person political voice until the first generation of legally dumped kids reaches the age of majority. The consequences to these kids are dire, if often rendered invisible for the time being.

There is no ‘going back to the drawing board ‘that can ‘fix’ a baby Moses bill, they are to their core harmful to those least able to speak on their own behalf.

There is only one adoptee or kid/eventual adult centered possibility of what to do with legalized abandonment laws, dump them.

Anything less than full repeal only perpetuates the ongoing disaster.

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Here are a few other raw sources on the Nebraska Teen and Tween dumps over the weekend,
AP Two boys abandoned under Nebraska’s ’safe haven’ law 9/15/08

The 11-year-old is still at the hospital and the 15-year-old is in an emergency shelter until the courts figure out who will have custody.

Woman Dropped Off 15 Year Old Boy At Safe Haven KLKN

They say the child had no sign of physical abuse so no charges will be filed.

But there are many who feel the law is problematic and say this case only solidifies their concerns.

The executive director of the Nebraska Children’s Home Society, Karen Authier, issued a statement saying:

“This child is old enough to know what’s happening to them, it’s a big concern and we believe there are better solutions.”

Health and human services also released a statement today saying, in this case, this is not what the law is intended to do, it’s for children that are in immediate danger.

11- and 15-Year-Olds Left at Separate Hospitals Under New Safe Haven Law

This piece contains two video segments (See left column)

Lincoln police tell Action 3 News the 15-year-old’s mother is deceased and the father’s whereabouts unknown.

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