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25 September, 2008

Father drops off 9 kids under 'safe haven' law

Will we be seeing a lot more of this now?

September 25, 2008 9:14 AM EDT

OMAHA, Nebraska - Nine children were left at a hospital by their father under the state's new "safe haven" law, a move officials feared could occur when they enacted the legislation to protect unwanted children.

The father, who was not identified, left the children aged 1 to 17 at Creighton University Medical Center's emergency room late Wednesday.

The law, which went into effect in July, allows caregivers to abandon children at any state-licensed hospital without fear of prosecution. It was initially intended to protect infants - like similar laws in other states - but was amended to include older children and teenagers.

At least four children between the ages of 11 and 15 have been abandoned by parents since the law took effect.

The nine youngsters surrendered Wednesday are OK, said Kathie Osterman, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. She didn't know how many were boys or girls, or why their father left them.

Nebraska was the last state in the nation to adopt a safe-haven law. 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.

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.

Abandoning teenagers was not the original intent of the law, Stuthman said Thursday.

"People are leaving them off just because they can't control them," he said. "They're probably in no real danger, so it's an easy way out for the caretaker."

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