Nebraska begins its special legislative session on the law that has resulted in 35 children getting dumped there

Organizers of a protest at the Creighton Medical Center in Omaha hope to persuade state lawmakers put an age limit in the safe-haven law.
Organizers of a protest at the Creighton Medical Center in Omaha hope to persuade state lawmakers put an age limit in the safe-haven law. (Photos By Nati Harnik -- Associated Press)
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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

OMAHA -- When social worker Courtney Anderson got the urgent call, she knew another child was being abandoned to the state. She spotted a boy, 12 years old, sobbing in a chair at the emergency room registration desk.

Standing behind him was a woman, also crying.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," the woman told the boy over and over.

"Please don't leave me," he begged.

Anderson introduced herself and began asking the woman the boy's name, his address and school, but the woman said she was in a hurry. She got ready to leave and hugged the boy, who asked through his tears, "Will you come see me?"

"I will if I can," the woman said and ran out the door.

When Nebraska legislators passed a bill creating a safe haven to help overwhelmed parents and guardians, they were thinking of babies and toddlers who had been abandoned by young mothers. Instead, 35 children -- typically adolescents -- have been dropped at the hospital door, most recently a 5-year-old boy on Thursday night.

The legislature opened a special session on Friday to fix the law. Discussion is expected to begin Monday to set an upper age limit of days or weeks for parents to deliver babies to the state without repercussions.

By next weekend, the old law probably will be history, but the unexpected images of adults from half a dozen states dumping their kids in Nebraska has revealed a largely hidden crisis across the country.

"They'll close the books, but they'll still be dealing with the same issues," said Tom Rawlings, the state children's advocate in Georgia, home of Tysheema Brown, who drove 15 hours to drop her 12-year-old in Lincoln. She later told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I ran out of fight. I ran out of hope. I never ran out of love for my child."

"Looking back, a number of us would have voted differently," Sen. Mike Flood (R), the speaker of the Nebraska legislature. "But it has uncovered a bigger issue. It demonstrates a need for families in crisis."

In Nebraska, the adults who dropped children on the doorsteps of hospitals and police stations typically told social workers they were at wit's end. In some cases, they blamed stress in their own lives. In other cases, they said the child had become depressed or uncontrollable.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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