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by Peter Moskos

October 15, 2008

Abandon your child

Something strange is happening in Nebraska.

From the LA Times:
Nebraska's safe-haven law is unlike similar laws in that it allows anyone, not just a parent, to drop off a child, of any age, at any state-licensed hospital without fear of prosecution for abandonment. The law doesn't absolve anyone of charges such as abuse or neglect.

But the fascinating part is that it's not infants getting dropped off... but teenagers!

The latest case, as reported in the Detroit Free Press:
The metro Detroit woman who drove 12 hours and about 725 miles to give her teenage son to the state of Nebraska under its safe haven law did so because she was stressed out and was trying to teach him a lesson, according to the youth's affidavit to authorities in Douglas County.
The youth is in Nebraska custody under the state's controversial safe haven law, which allows parents to relinquish children up to age 18 to the custody of the state, while most states, including Michigan, permit only the abandonment of newborns and infants.
The Michigan teen is the second child from out of state and one of 18 children relinquished in Nebraska since the law's inception. No newborns have been handed over, said Todd Landry, director of the division of children and family services in Nebraska.

I know deep down it's sad, but the cop in me finds the concept of abandoning teenagers hilarious. Sure I'm cynical. All cops are. It's the ultimate parent threat come true: "I warned you!"

I came across many parents and guardians in Baltimore who wanted to give up their children. And I'd say the bulk of them were not bad people. Bad parents, maybe. Certainly failed parents. But sometimes kids just don't turn out right. And before you blame these parents, ask yourself if you've ever tried raising a boy in East Baltimore. In poverty.

Many of these parents pointed out they raised other kids well. Others blamed laws limited their ability to discipline (ie: hit) misbehaving children. I'd say that the ones who told me they wanted to give up their teenagers were not the worst parents. The really bad parents simply didn't give a damn one way or the other. At least the parents who want to give up their children understand the child is going down the wrong path. The really bad parents don't see a problem with their 13-year-old drinking and whoring and slinging.

I think part of the problem is that we define "child" up to too high an age. A 17-year-old with 2 kids and a job (legal or otherwise) is not a child. I believe in the legal concept of "juveniles," I just think that 18 is too old. 15 is probably better. By the time an out-of-control kid reaches that age, they're no longer a kid. And by then, there isn't much a parent can do. What do you do when you just can't take it anymore? And after the parent gives up, it becomes the police officer's problem.


Anonymous said...

"Others blamed laws limited their ability to discipline (ie: hit) misbehaving children."

I've heard this one before. Some time ago, I was criticizing the parents who see me wandering around on foot patrol and tell their kids things like, "you better behave or he'll arrest you." I pointed out that this made me uncomfortable and sent the wrong message to kids. The person I was talking to disagreed and said parents had to do things like that because they can't use corporal punishment. But the thing is, corporal punishment is not illegal, within reason. Also, who says hitting a kid will teach him/her anything. The worst case scenario is it will teach your kids that violence is a great way to influence behavior. Violence can be cyclical.

You make a good point when you question how we define a child. I think eighteen may be too young. This causes problems in the "age of consent" area and can lead to a lot of problems (like 18 year olds being labeled as "sex offenders" because they had 16 year old girlfriends). And I know 21 is too old for the drinking age. Our society, which is supposed to value individual responsibility, seems to infantalize many people who should be expected to act like responsible adults.

Unknown said...

The idea of abandoning your teenager to a state-licensed hospital seems irresponsible, but its legal in Nebraska. On one hand, the parent should be responsible and not give up on the child, but on the other hand, if the parent is not capable to raising the child or teen then its probably better to relinquish custody. The one that loses is the teenager. He or she loses his or her family and has to start a new life with people that might not care.