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Does Safe Haven Law Help or Hurt?

In late September, Nebraskan Gary Staton decided he'd had enough. Rather than ask relatives for help, he drove his nine underaged children to a hospital and left them there. Staton could do this without legal repercussions because Nebraska has a law allowing parents of minor children to abandon those children in safe places such as a hospital or fire station with no questions asked.

Staton's life began to fall apart when his wife died from a brain aneurysm soon after giving birth to the couple's 10th child. According to MSNBC and other news outlets, he was unemployed and struggled with bills.

His eldest daughter, 18-year-old Amoria Micek told WOWT-TV in Omaha that "he felt like he couldn't provide for them and rather than having the kids homeless or without utilities, he decided he would take up on the safe haven act." Amoria, who was not abandoned, said she speaks with her father daily.

The Staton children joined six teenagers who were also abandoned in Nebraska last month under the state's safe haven law, reports the New York Times.

All 50 states -- though not the District of Columbia -- have safe haven laws that are designed to save babies from being left to die in dumpsters or elsewhere. The first safe haven law was enacted in Texas in 1999. The National Safe Haven Alliance reports uncertainty about the exact number of children abandoned under the laws, but estimates the number at more than 2,000, according to the New York Times. In 2003, a report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, cautioned that safe haven laws were causing more problems by encouraging women to conceal pregnancies and abandon babies rather than receive counseling and by undermining child welfare practices.

But child welfare practices themselves have come under scrutiny. In the Washington area, children in two families that have had some interaction with child welfare agencies have been found dead. In one, two girls were found dead in their adopted mother's freezer, and in the other, Banita Jacks is accused of killing her four children.

Do you think Nebraska's safe haven law is a model for other states or too broad? And what help should we and can we provide to families in need?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  October 6, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Newsmakers
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Comments


I live in Nebraska and pay Nebraska taxes. This state blows more money on football than it will ever spend helping children. I know of a lot of children that would be or would have been a lot better off in foster care than in the homes that birthed them. If a parent can't or don't want to care for their child or children they are much better off in state custody. I think it is a good law and needed everywhere.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | October 6, 2008 7:51 AM | Report abuse

The Stanton situation is being used by some people as an argument against the Safe Haven law in its present form. It is actually quite the opposite. For whatever reason, Mr. Stanton was unwilling to ask for help from relatives. Yet after he left his children, some of those relatives have come forward with offers to take in the children. Mr. Stanton's action was a cry for help - and the help will be provided for his children. The immediate situation is very painful for both Mr. Stanton and his children. Yet we can hope that the eventual resolution will be a good one. This is precisely the intent of the Safe Haven law - to take someone's private crisis and bring it out into the open - so that, in the end, the children will be given protection. It would be a mistake to impose age limits on the law. Parents with children of any age might become overwhelmed by circumstances and not see any way out. The Safe Haven law is a clear sign to any such parents that no matter what, there is someone who will take care of their children.

Posted by: LeszX | October 6, 2008 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Parents should absolutely be able to drop unruly teens when they cannot care for them. In some cases, it's the only way they can prove that they reached out to social authority and attempted to find solutions. It opens the door to all sorts of abuse and corruption which will ultimately lead to more child death, but only a desperate person would do that. Hopefully it would give more support to reasonable solutions that are supportive of family oriented solutions. There are too many issues facing families to ignore. It's terrible when it comes to this.

Posted by: sharonp1z | October 6, 2008 8:48 AM | Report abuse

It comes back to education. To raise ten children is impossible financially (at the very least) for almost anyone. If people understood how much money it costs, nevermind the emotional and mental challenges of raising children, maybe they would think twice before having more than they could handle. It's mostly the poor and/or uneducated who have so many children, sometimes (or often, I guess) by multiple fathers. I'm sure this sounds like a judgment to some, but I don't care. It's more of a statement of fact.

Re the Stantons, while my heart breaks for him and his situation, I think it is beyond irresponsible to have a family that large unless you have a sizeable, independent income and can raise them without public assistance. I suppose I would argue for free birth control as a kind of public assistance available to anyone.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 6, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Ditto to WorkingMomX. This law is a Band-Aid. As a nation, let's look to expand prevention programs (i.e., comprehensive sexuality education, access to affordable birth control, top-notch public education).

Posted by: MzFitz | October 6, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Unless they are talking about the misconception that children are fundamentally better off with their biological parents, safe haven laws do NOT undermine child welfare. In fact, these kids often end up wards of the state for at least a brief period of time, after being left in their safe haven.

Ditto to working mom. Clearly these parents do not have enough foresight to make a rational decision about the challenges of raising a large family. Unfortunately they are bad examples to parents who successfully raise large families. And there are families that can do it properly.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 6, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

While safe haven laws can be a lifesaver for many children, people have a false sense of security about the foster homes where such children end up. In many cases, those homes can be as bad as if not worse than where the children came from. States can and do become involved in lawsuits filed against them because foster children are severely and permanently harmed, raped or murdered in foster care (by other foster kids, foster parents, lovers of foster parents or kids of foster parents). A lot of good foster parents are out there, but so are a lot of bad ones.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | October 6, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that you all say that it was irresponsible of the parents to have 9 children. It is important to consider that perhaps some people's religious beliefs do not allow them to utilize contraception and family planning. And simply because you may not believe in that same concept (which is perfectly fine - I myself do not belong to such a religion), doesn't mean that you should not take this into consideration. Also, some families merely cannot afford borth control or because of the stigma attached to Planned Parenthood, do not think that it is first and foremost a organization dedicated to women's health and family planning. Meaning - this is where they can obtain free or low-cost birth control.
Like any system, the Safe Haven Law can and will be "abused" by some. However, I would much rather people "abuse" this system if it mean providing for the children that they cannot afford to take care of, as much as they may want to. What we need to do is work together and improve our social system. While some social workers seemed to have "slacked" on the job - have you ever thought of the reasoning behind it. People enter this profession initially because they care, because it's most certainly not the income. So when they begin working with clients and discover how little resources they have to work with, they do what they can. Which of course doesn't justify everything, but it is something to consider. Did you know that the US spends 75-80% on defense? Try looking up how much of our tax dollars go towards our social system - it is so very sad.

Posted by: sighnyc | October 6, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that you all say that it was irresponsible of the parents to have 9 children. It is important to consider that perhaps some people's religious beliefs do not allow them to utilize contraception and family planning. And simply because you may not believe in that same concept (which is perfectly fine - I myself do not belong to such a religion), doesn't mean that you should not take this into consideration. Also, some families merely cannot afford borth control or because of the stigma attached to Planned Parenthood, do not think that it is first and foremost a organization dedicated to women's health and family planning. Meaning - this is where they can obtain free or low-cost birth control.

SighNYC -- Unless their churches are going to provide all needed financial, emotional, and logistic support to help people raise their families, it is irresponsible of a faith/religion to tell people to have as many children as possible. The rationale behind such a tenet dates back centuries to a time when the infant mortality rate was extremely high, most babies didn't make it to adulthood, making it to 35 was considered old age, and the idea was to populate the earth with people who believed like you did. Surely this doctrine doesn't or at least shouldn't stand the test of time.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 6, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you, WorkinMom, that is indeed an outdated idea. I am not even saying that I practice this. I am a firm believer in birth control and real sex education that teaches teens about birth control more in depth. I am just trying to be the Devil's Advocate, if you will, and throwing out a reason why a family may have 9 children. And while we may not agree with a religious doctrine, to some extent I think it should be considered and respected.
I think that we punish the poor and disadvantaged too much in our society -we call them lazy and irresponsible when in fact many outside factors could have contributed to their situation. More often than not, it is when a system that has been put in place to help them has instead failed them some way. Perhaps when it was a two parent home, both salaries were enough to support the children. Then one parent passes away, leaves, gets sick or injured, etc and suddenly the one salary is not enough. I most certainly do not want to discount your thoughts, as I believe they are important and respoected. Like I said, I am merely trying to play the Devil's Advocate and see the situation from the viewpoint of the families who are experiencing it.

Posted by: sighnyc | October 6, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

fr WorkingMomX:

>I find it interesting that you all say that it was irresponsible of the parents to have 9 children. It is important to consider that perhaps some people's religious beliefs do not allow them to utilize contraception and family planning....

That's because it IS irresponsible to have this huge family. Why not adopt? Plenty of kids here in the US to adopt.

Posted by: Alex511 | October 6, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Whether or not it is justifiable to have a boat load of kids probably depends on your circumstances - That family with 18 kids seems to be doing OK, and the Jolie-Pitts have already said they intend to have more kids.

I think that the Stanton situation is a red herring here. It's not really about the size of this one family. The real question is whether the Safe Haven program accomplishes what it was intended to do. My understanding is that it was intended to provide a safe place for people in dire circumstances to leave their kids if they can't take care of them. This seems to be exactly what has happened. Maybe the legislature only meant for it to apply to babies, but older kids need the protection too, as we have seen from the actual uses of the program. So, my opinion, FWIW, is that the program appears to functioning properly and should continue to be supported by the goverment and the people and I wish more states would consider expanding their programs to accomodate older kids.

As theoriginalmomof2 said, sometimes bad things happen in foster care, and that is really tragic. But, when the parents can't care for the kids and have no where else to turn, wouldn't the alternative be for the kids to live on the streets? And it's pretty much given that bad things happen to kids who live on the streets. It's not a good choice by any means, but rolling the dice on foster care seems to beat the alternative.

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 6, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm confused. If a parent comes to a social worker somewhere in a state that is not Nebraska, and says I cannot take care of my children - what do they do? Just turn the parent back to the street? Does something tragic have to happen before the kids would be taken?

That seems slightly absurd to me.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 6, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

"That's because it IS irresponsible to have this huge family. Why not adopt? Plenty of kids here in the US to adopt."

--Because maybe they'll rather have their own biological kids than to adopt. There is nothing irresponsible about spawning 6 children over adopting some into the mix. If I ever decide to have a boatload of kids, I'll rather they all be my spawns. I'm not out to save the world.

Posted by: Soguns1 | October 6, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh. Looky! Now we have to sign in to post a comment. It was about time!

...Yeah, I'm just now realizing this. No wonder the comments are in low numbers. Idiots trollers are afraid to post their absurd comments, revealing their "identity." LOL.

Posted by: Soguns1 | October 6, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Leave it to the free-thinking and non-judgmental to show disdain for any parent who doesn't abide by her views on birth control and family size.


"Pro-choice" means that we have the freedom to choose our family size and family planning for ourselves and our families -- not that we ram the choice of birth control and 1.89 children down the throats of all other families, along with a tablespoon of barely concealed condescension toward practicing Catholics.

Posted by: gcoward | October 6, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Stanton and his wife had a long history of spotty employment, debt, and general inability to function. Stanton claims to have feared losing his house to foreclosure, but he apparently walked away from a good job not long before abandoning his children. It was not due to his need to care for the little ones; his eldest daughter did that. Their troubled history suggests that both Stantons may have had mental or emotional problems. The children may well be better off in their relatives' care.

Posted by: earther | October 6, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

"Pro-choice" means that we have the freedom to choose our family size and family planning for ourselves and our families -- not that we ram the choice of birth control and 1.89 children down the throats of all other families, along with a tablespoon of barely concealed condescension toward practicing Catholics.

gcoward, I don't think anyone's saying have only 1.89 children or hating on Catholics. I think the message is: have what you can handle, emotionally and financially, without burdening others -- regardless of your faith.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 6, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"I think the message is: have what you can handle, emotionally and financially, without burdening others -- regardless of your faith."

Hear, hear!

I support Safe Haven laws.

Once upon a time, four children, a kindergartener, two pre-schoolers and an infant were in the care of their mother. There father was attending a work-related training session for several weeks in another town.

The woman was a very devout, pre-Vatican-II Catholic, and she was going crazy all alone with those four very young children. In her mind, the youngest child had become the infant Jesus and she had to crucify him. The other three children were the Virgin Mary, and two of God's angels. Serious mental illness, in other words, weirdly tangled up with the woman's religious beliefs.

It was November 1964, so there were no Safe Haven laws around. The woman was my mother. My baby brother survived - we all four did. Our Grandma got a *very* strange phone call from our mother, and she came to our rescue.

Fortunately for those four little kids in my story, there was extended family living nearby, so our dad got help and support with raising his kids while his wife was in the hospital. Most men in his shoes would probably have divorced the crazy wife, abandoned the kids, and never looked back, because there wasn't any better option available.

Now we have better options.

Posted by: SueMc | October 6, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

fr VaLGaL:

>...That family with 18 kids seems to be doing OK...

But have you SEEN those kids? They all look alike, with Stepford kid faces. The older ones get NO privacy whatsoever, and that is NOT healthy at all.

Posted by: Alex511 | October 6, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Red herrings all over the place today.

It doesn't matter how many kids you have, or don't have. The law was meant to provide a safe haven in case the parents could not. It may have been targetted to infants, but it worked for this family of 9 kids (well, 10). This family now has a safe haven, just as the law intended.

oh...Soguns...people haven't been posting because the topics have been lame-o for quite a while. webkins? Talking about financials with little kids? LAME-O!

Posted by: dotted | October 6, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

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