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Two boys left at Neb. hospitals under 'haven' law

Jean Ortiz,, September 15, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. - Two boys ages 15 and 11 were left at Nebraska hospitals over the weekend, the first youngsters surrendered under the state's new safe-haven law that allows caregivers to abandon children and teens as well as infants, officials said.

A 44-year-old woman dropped off her teenage nephew at Lincoln's Bryan LGH Medical Center West on Saturday, saying the boy had behavioral problems that she couldn't handle anymore, Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said. The woman is the boy's legal guardian.

The other boy was left at Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha on Saturday, said Alegent Health spokeswoman Kelly Grinnell.

The 11-year-old was dropped off by his mother, who said she believed she could no longer care for him, said Todd Landry, who heads the Department of Health and Human Services' division of children and family services.

The two cases are the first uses of the state's safe-haven law, Landry said. Neither case produced suspicion of child abuse or neglect and neither child appeared to be in immediate danger, he said.

"These were two cases where the caregiver or parent decided the behavior issues were such they felt they could no longer provide good parenting skills," Landry said.

The 11-year-old remained in an Omaha hospital for evaluation and observation Monday, he said. The 15-year-old was temporarily placed in an emergency shelter in Lincoln. The county attorneys and the courts will now step in to determine custody.

Nebraska was the last state in the nation to adopt a safe-haven law, which took effect July 18. It allows any caregiver, not just a parent, to leave a child at any state-licensed hospital without fear of prosecution.

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.

Most other states have focused their laws on protecting infants.

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 to include the word "child."

The law doesn't further define child, and some have interpreted that to mean anyone in Nebraska under the age of 19. Others have taken the common law meaning of child -  those under age 14.

Stuthman's bill was signed into law as a way of protecting children from immediate danger or harm, said Landry, who didn't believe the two cases Saturday carried that sense of urgency.

Stuthman said Monday that he was surprised that two older children were abandoned on the same day. He said the cases didn't meet the intent of his bill, but he said they will open lawmakers' eyes as to the issues affecting children and families.

"I clearly do not believe this was the intent of LB157," he said.

Stuthman and others have said they are open to revisiting the legislation. On the Net:

Department of Health and Human Service:

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