Abandoning Children

From the NYT (h/t):

“The abandonments began on Sept. 1, when a mother left her 14-year-old son in a police station here.

By Sept. 23, two more boys and one girl, ages 11 to 14, had been abandoned in hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln. Then a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl were left.

The biggest shock to public officials came last week, when a single father walked into an Omaha hospital and surrendered nine of his 10 children, ages 1 to 17, saying that his wife had died and he could no longer cope with the burden of raising them.

In total last month, 15 older children in Nebraska were dropped off by a beleaguered parent or custodial aunt or grandmother who said the children were unmanageable.

Officials have called the abandonments a misuse of a new law that was mainly intended to prevent so-called Dumpster babies — the abandonment of newborns by young, terrified mothers — but instead has been used to hand off out-of-control teenagers or, in the case of the father of 10, to escape financial and personal despair.

The spate of abandonments has prompted an outcry about parental irresponsibility and pledges to change the state law. But it has also cast a spotlight on the hidden extent of family turmoil around the country and what many experts say is a shortage of respite care, counseling and especially psychiatric services to help parents in dire need.

Some who work with troubled children add that economic conditions, like stagnant low-end wages and the epidemic of foreclosures, may make the situation worse, adding layers of worry and conflict. (…)

In July, Nebraska became the last of the states to enact a so-called safe-haven law. Such laws permit mothers to leave an infant at a facility with no fear of prosecution. Nationwide, more than 2,000 babies have been turned over since Texas enacted the first such law in 1999, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance in Virginia.

But Nebraska’s version was far broader than all others, protecting not just infants but also children up to age 19.

State Senator Arnie Stuthman, sponsor of the Nebraska bill, said some legislators had said they wanted to protect all children from harm.”

Dear God. Think of what it must be like to be one of those kids.

It’s hard to see how some earlier intervention couldn’t have helped — either by making it clear that the kids were in danger, in which case they would presumably be removed from the family in any case, or by helping with whatever problems existed before they got to this point. It’s also hard to see how a law that allows parents to simply abandon not just infants, but teenagers, at a police station, can possibly be a good idea — at least if the system for dealing with abused and neglected kids is at all functional. And a dysfunctional system of child protection, while common, just should not be allowed to stand. (The fact that we allow our governments to run foster care systems that routinely just lose children, and in which children are killed — that the citizens of states in which this happens don’t just rise up and demand that their representatives do better, and step up to pay whatever new taxes that might require — is an abiding mystery to me.)

It’s also hard to see how this problem won’t get a lot worse in the next few years. State and local budgets are going to be very, very tight, and families who might have made it in better times are going to be subjected to stresses that might break them.