OMAHA, Neb. – Eleven children ranging in age from 1 to 17 were left at hospitals Wednesday under Nebraska's unique safe haven law, which allows caregivers to abandon youngsters as old as 19 without fear of prosecution.
Nine of the children came from one family. The six boys and three girls were left by their father, who was not identified, at Creighton University Medical Center's emergency room. Unrelated boys ages 11 and 15 also were surrendered Wednesday at Immanuel Medical Center.
The law, which went into effect in July, initially was intended to protect infants. In a compromise with senators worried about arbitrary age limits, the measure was expanded to include the word "child," which wasn't defined. Some have interpreted this to mean anyone under the age of 19.
At least 14 children have been abandoned under the state's safe haven law since it took effect.
Todd Landry, director of Health and Human Services' division of Children and Family Services, said that in nearly every case, the parents who left their children felt overwhelmed and had decided they didn't want to be parents anymore. None of the kids dropped off so far has been in danger, Landry said.
The children surrendered Wednesday are OK, said Kathie Osterman, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. She didn't know why they had been abandoned. Further details weren't immediately available.
Nebraska was the last state in the nation to adopt a safe-haven law. Under previous law, a parent who abandoned a baby could have been charged with child neglect or abandonment, both misdemeanors, or child abuse, a felony.
State Sen. Arnie Stuthman said he introduced the bill intending to protect infants. In a compromise with senators worried about arbitrary age limits, the measure was expanded.
Abandoning teenagers was not the original intent of the law, Stuthman said Thursday.
"People are leaving them off just because they can't control them," he said. "They're probably in no real danger, so it's an easy way out for the caretaker."