Many Christians recently celebrated the special feast of the Holy Family, a feast that presents Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as a model family whom all families can emulate.
The bond of love that existed within that tender family can help us all to develop a deeper bond with each other in our families.
It’s no secret that American families are struggling in a variety of ways and need God’s blessing and a witness of love more than ever.
In thinking about this feast and how it relates to our world and our lives I thought I had found the perfect idea for a column. I have been thinking quite a bit about the “safe haven” law which was enacted in Nebraska in July, 2008. It was going to be my definitive example of just how low we’re sinking and how desperately we need faith in America.
Nebraska’s “safe haven” law is designed to protect babies who might otherwise be abandoned by their parents. Rather than unthinkably disposing of a child in a trashcan or worse, Nebraska declared that parents could drop off a child at designated hospitals and not face prosecution. The state would assume responsibility for a parent who is unable to care for their infant. In essence, this is a very compassionate response from a state government to prevent horrendous tragedies.
In the category of “no good deed goes unpunished,” Nebraska officials were shocked to find that while this law was in effect, 34 children were dropped off at hospitals throughout Nebraska but none of them were infants.
All but six of these children were older than 10. Parents were abandoning their unruly teenagers and older children on Nebraska’s doorstep and walking away. Clearly, this is not what Nebraska lawmakers intended but a loophole in the law allowed parents to abandon their older children.
Nebraska law interpreted a “child” as anyone under 18, which resulted in the desertion of 34 older children and teens. Nebraska changed the wording in November 2008 to only include newborns up to 30 days old and the loophole has been closed.
But what of the 34 children who were dropped off by their parents from as far away as Michigan, Georgia, and Florida? They are now wards of the state and probably better off.
Can you understand how easy my argument would be that America is in dire straits? People are dropping off their children at a hospital and walking away with no remorse. These are not infants who would have little memory of abandonment; these are children and teens who would always remember that their mother and father didn’t want them anymore. What’s wrong with us?
But before I saddled up on my moral high horse, I decided to do a little research and find out what I could about these situations. What I learned made me tie my high horse to a post, take a deep breath, and try to understand once more what people go through.
Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Post sought to learn more of these families for her November 9, 2008 column. She learned of Gary Staton who dropped off nine children, age 1 to 17, because he couldn’t care for them after their mother’s death. He told a Nebraska TV station: “I was with my wife for 17 years and then she was gone. I didn’t think I could do it alone. I fell apart. I couldn’t care for them.”
Staton’s story is tragic and so are many of the others of parents whose children deal with a variety of mental health issues. Many of them have searched for help for their children for years to no avail. Regardless of what I or anyone else may think, they have remorse. They simply don’t know what else to do and saw “safe haven” law as a possible answer.
As a nation, we are in need of a renewed faith in God more than ever before. I’m just not so sure that the Nebraska “safe haven” law is the perfect example I thought it would be.