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Kids and parents need a *REAL* haven from the so called safe havens, Will Nebraska step up?

This is the latest in a series of posts I have done criticizing Nebraska’s legalized child abandonment laws. You can find my earlier posts via my Nebraska tag.


dc.gifTragically, at the moment there is only one place in the United States that infants are protected from State enabled child abandonments, Washington DC.

Only there can every newborn rest assured that being dumped is not ok, not state encouraged, and never legal.

How could it have come to this?

Over the past nine years the dump laws have spread across the country like a cancer. State after state has fallen to the siren calls of the dump marketers, seduced by false promises of ‘no more dumpster babies’, or that these laws would become some form of a magical panacea, somehow “saving” both newborns and their mothers as well.

In state after state, in the period of time before the vote, a ‘dumped baby crisis’ almost always seemed to materialize. So legislators jumped to a reaction rather than a response, they rammed through dump laws with little understanding of the consequences.

Those most directly affected, the kids themselves, and (in most states) anonymous abandoners had no voice, no means to speak to their long term needs and what the law would do.

Anyone who dared raise a criticism or objection to legalized child dumping, often adult adoptees, child welfare advocates, and those who actually work with womyn in desperate circumstances were instantly painted as inhuman monsters who would rather find dead babies.

Likewise, in state after state legislators set common sense aside, lest they too be tarred as those wanting baby corpses, or as those voting for dead babies. Dump law opponents were given the usual set of “so when did you stop beating your wife” sorts of questions.

Unfortunately, the reasons for opposing legalized child abandonment are complex, nuanced, and rarely soundbyteable. Professional dump marketeers waving pictures of cuddly babies and making overly simplistic unburdened by evidence propagandistic arguments along the lines of (the compulsory pregnancy advocates’ line) “live baby good dead baby bad” shouted down voices of reason.

Never mind the fact that the mythical “dead baby” alluded to by the dump law advocates was likely never headed toward death in the first place. Yes, there are dead babies. But to claim the two poles are “safe haven” or dumpster misses reality.

The womyn with the wherewithal to utilize the dump law, who packs up her baby to drive him or her across town to the hospital is not the same womyn as the womyn who tiptoes over to the dumpster a few blocks from her apartment to deposit a trash bagged bloody bundle.

The hospital abandoner under other circumstances may have been able to connect with a program or a relative, or even a traditional (non state anonymized) adoption plan. She wants her kid to be ok. Trash bag abandoner on the other hand?

There remains no evidence what-so-ever that these laws reach her.

supermarketdumpster.jpgShe is often in a crisis situation, sometimes has been in denial of her pregnancy, and in her panic is often merely her own version of just trying to make it all go away. She is in a severe mental health crisis, no amount of spending on PSAs is going to touch her right that moment. Up until the moment of birth she may not have ever acknowledged her own pregnancy. She’s not looking for a program, or to a law, or to a hospital with surveillance cameras all around, she’s looking for a T-shirt to mop up the blood before someone sees it.

Add in a rural component of having to go to a hospital where neighbors might see you, or other circumstances such as lack of access to transportation and the bottom line is state approved dump sites make a lovely fantasy, but they reach those who are open to such already. They’re not going to reach those who feel so trapped that they commit acts of desperation.

While dump marketers can trot out former abandoners doing their court ordered community service with their kitchen table organizations who on cue with give the soundbyte, “but of course I would have used the safe haven had I known about it,” hindsight is cheap and easy. Even cheaper and easier when you’re trying to get your judge off your back. They can only speak for themselves, not other womyn in similar circumstances. I don’t presume to know what they would or would not have done, but what I do know is that for some law or no law the desperation clearly continues.

Abandoned infants and dead babies have not disappeared with the passage of the 50th state’s dump law. Dump laws are never going to “clean up” 100% of the problem. In Nebraska, not a single one of the kids was facing down danger. That would be if anything a 100% failure rate, by the criteria of whether or not the law is protecting kids from immediate harm. Which means it’s all the more important to weigh carefully the harm dump laws cause.

(For example, here’s an important question that remains unanswered: prior to dump laws being passed were prosecutors often utilizing their discretion, but after a dump law is enacted are womyn being penalized much harder? Do these these womyn end up bearing the brunt of the state’s anger when the law fails to work? A scholarly study of the outcomes and sentences womyn have received both before and after dump laws would be a very useful thing right about now.)

Still, dump law marketers bemoan the lack of funding (often into their own programs) for ever escalating dump law publicity, and with each dead baby found they call for yet more funding, insisting that if only everyone was “educated” about their law the baby corpses would stop. Some state have even put ‘how to dump a baby’ programs into school curriculums as part of their ever escalating attempt to teach womyn how to abandon babies.

Dead babies must not serve as fodder for an ever needy marketing maw. Yet that’s exactly what has happened.

When it came to the state by state legislative battles, those who work with both kinds of abandoners, those with expertise, experience and yes adoptees themselves went unheeded.

Worse, as those most directly affected had no voice (in part by the very nature of the fact that an infant cannot politically advocate on their own behalf) legislators,, media, and others saw no down side to passing the laws. They saw no harm. They didn’t understand or refused to understand that the long lasting effects of the dump laws could actually cause lasting harm to the very people they were passed in the name of. The dump laws are short sighted.

Nebraska of course has IDed dumps, but in other states, abandoners are anonymous. This permanently strips the dumped kids of any genetic, social, cultural, or familial history. A dumpling can be “saved!” via dump law at age 1, only to suffer years later due to lack of genetic information such as breast cancer in the familial history. I’m loathe to make the medical argument as the issues therein are complex. That said, I think it is fair to say that shortsightedness is a hallmark of the dump laws, and that any definition of baby “saving” has to be carefully examined in the cold hard light of lifelong consequences of the state’s actions on/against such a vulnerable population.

Kids need long term answers, and at the very moment they are least able to protect their own interests (being a newborn and all) the state abandons it’s own role as acting on behalf of the child’s welfare, instead becoming a key participant in the abandonment process itself. If ever kids needed the state to step up and help them, it is when they are completely defenseless. But rather coming to the child in need’s aid, “Safe haven” states are central to the act of cutting access, information, and family away from the child permanently.

Let me make this as clear as I can, child abandonment is NEVER a good thing. It should not be enabled. It should not be held up as a positive outcome. It does lasting damage to everyone it touches, the kids most of all. Rather than working to stamp out child abandonment, the dump laws turn every last shred of child welfare best practices on their head, advocating womyn do precisely the thing that child welfare advocates have tried to prevent. Child dumping is always failure. It doesn’t matter if the name is prettied up, or if it’s done under the bright fluorescent lighting of hospitals, child dumping is evidence that things are really, REALLY broken.

Legalized child dumping does NOTHING to change those root causations, instead it is the state desperately trying to plaster over the place on the wall where the things that make us uncomfortable intruded, however briefly. ‘Sure she was in a desperate pregnancy with no money and no way to afford another child, but that’s “dealt with” now’. Not so much.

As state after state fell, caught up in the delusion that these laws were somehow going “fix” things, those of us who empathize with the kids knew that the consequences to the kids would become apparent, but only later, as every other state has only applied the law to kids much younger.

Nebraska short circuited that 18 year wait time while the dumped kids grew to age of majority. By passing the older kid dump law and by not making the dumpers anonymous Nebraska suddenly provided for the first time a sad window into the lives and circumstances of both the parents and guardians and the kids themselves. Nebraska is in so many ways a very special case due to the unique nature of its law.

But what it has shown us is precisely what those of us who have tracked dumps as best we can across the country (as most states laws make the dumper anonymous) have known for a long time now. Utilizing legalized child abandonment systems is often an act of desperation. These are people who by and large do not want to lose their kids, but feel trapped, and have nowhere else to turn.

Legalized baby dumping may happen as a result of poverty, or it may be utilized to cover abuse, domestic violence, or even incest. Dumping the baby makes the ‘evidence’ go away, but it does nothing to change the circumstances that lead to the act of dumping. Having dump sites available may actually function as a means to keep womyn in dangerous situations, as now instead of having to deal with a pregnancy and a child, the dump laws forms a means by which abusers can simply continue to hide everything going on.

The dump laws encourage womyn to hide and keep secret their pregnancies, avoid prenatal care, and deliver in secret, far from medical care, risking their very lives in the process. They bet their very lives, holding out hope that if they can just get the kid to a dump site no one need ever know.

With the American health care crisis, many womyn may not even be aware of what resources could help them through a pregnancy or keeping the child. Some may simply find themselves pregnant and panic not knowing how they would afford to give birth in a hospital, much less raise a child. Lack of information and economic pressures both perceived and real, may lead womyn into incredibly dangerous circumstances.

The States, rather than working to educate, destigmatize, and actually connect womyn with what programs and funding do exist, are instead maintaining the stigma and shame basis, insisting that it is better that a womyn deliver alone in secret and utilize the dump than access medical care and connect with existing programs.

The existence of the dump laws takes the pressure off the States to actually help families in need.

Just dump the newborn and go on back to your circumstances. The kid, (in most states) now stripped of all genetic, cultural, social, and family history, is a tabla rasa perfect candidate for adoption. The adopters get a kid with no history and no family of origin to come looking for him or her later. The State now that it has decoupled the child from any notion of their medical history can present the kid as “no known problems”, and collect their federal “adoption bonus” for placing the kid. And the kid themselves… well, they’re supposed to sit down shut up and be grateful for a lifetime that they weren’t dumpstered.

Which for some of the kids, if they turn out anything like other adoptees, begins to fall apart over time.

“Be grateful you’re not dead,” while the constant refrain used to shout down adoptee’s genuine concerns is ultimately a very poor excuse. Doubly so when one begins to look at whether or not dumped kids were ever really in danger in the first place. The Nebraska DHHS concluded that not one of the older kids dumped was ever in any immediate danger.
We have no determination of immanent danger for the anonymous states, but I would be willing to bet the parents and guardians who have abandoned the kids in other states loved them too, loved them so much that they turned to the final avenue they had open to them, which was of course just as in regular adoptions, sold to original parents as some sick form of gateway “to a better life for your child.” (See my previous dismantling of the “better life” marketing pitch here.)

Ultimately these laws betray the real long term interests of both womyn and children. The laws cause further harm, and prevent families from accessing genuine help.

Now as Nebraska legislators take up the law in the special session, they have before them a rare opportunity, a second chance to do what’s right.

Repeal the dump law, age it down to never.

Ensure that never again will a child be “legally abandoned” in Nebraska.

In short they have the opportunity to make Nebraska a real haven for kids and their families, a place where kids don’t fear going to the hospital because rather than hospitals being places of health and healing they have been transformed by legislation into the places parents go to get rid of their kids. Kids, of any age need stability and support, not uncertainty and abandonment.

While Nebraska legislators up for re-election ran their campaigns this fall, the kids kept pouring in. Kids after kid, and yet from the legislature, there was little more than foot shuffling and uncomfortable looks, coupled with promises of getting to it come January. While the legislators felt they could wait, Kids, speaking nationally here, can’t. They can’t wait another day for the doors to the Nebraska dumping grounds to be closed.

Aging down (dump law 2.0) just means older kids are off the hot seat, if they made it to age X (whatever Nebraska legislators ultimately decide) they’re in the clear. But for kids younger than the cut off date, whether 3 days or 30, or four months of even a year, the dump law “returns department” doors would remain open.

That’s a damn sad state of affairs.

In Washington DC dumping a child is never ok. Dumping a child is not legalized. It’s not enabled by the government, nor encouraged. ‘Child dumping 101/how to abandon a baby’ is not in the school curriculum.

washmon.jpgWhen it comes to “safe haven” laws, DC is the only haven kids have left.

DC represents one last little island, surrounded by the rising tide of the normalization of child abandonment in America.

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