Abandoned Babies

Nebraska’s Unique Safe Haven Law Allows Parents To Surrender A Minor Of Any Age

While the ‘safe haven law’ is different in each state, Nebraska recently passed a unique version of law designed to protect unwanted infants by allowing parents to legally surrender them at a hospital.

In the law, which took effect July 18, Nebraska allows parents to give up a minor of any age — possibly an unruly teenager — instead of just infants.

Passed in February by the state’s nonpartisan Legislature, the law specifies that no person can be prosecuted for leaving any child in the custody of any on-duty hospital employee. While other states set a much lower age limit for children to be left under safe haven laws — the oldest is a year in North Dakota — Nebraska law defines a “child” as anyone up to 19 years old.

State Sen. Pete Pirsch, whose compromise amendment eventually became the law, said using the broad language was intentional, because several senators felt strongly that the safe haven protection needed to be extended to all children.

Because the definition of a minor child is so broad, hospitals are seeing families of all ages being abandoned on their doorsteps.

Eleven children ranging in age from 1 to 17 were left at hospitals Wednesday.

Nine of the children came from one family. The six boys and three girls were left by their father, who was not identified, at Creighton University Medical Center’s emergency room. Unrelated boys ages 11 and 15 also were surrendered Wednesday at Immanuel Medical Center.Todd Landry, director of Health and Human Services’ division of Children and Family Services, said that in nearly every case, the parents who left their children felt overwhelmed and had decided they didn’t want to be parents anymore. None of the kids dropped off so far has been in danger, Landry said.

The children surrendered Wednesday are OK, said Kathie Osterman, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. She didn’t know why they had been abandoned.

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.

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.”

Here are what’s acceptable in other states:

  • In Texas, emergency medical services personnel and child welfare agents can accept infants up to 60 days old.
  • In California, a baby up to 72 hours old can be surrendered to any “safe haven site,” which includes hospitals and fire stations. The parent then has two weeks to reclaim the child if he or she has a change of heart.
  • In Maryland, an updated version of its law, scheduled to take effect this October, allows parents to surrender an infant to a “responsible adult” without prosecution up to 10 days after birth, as long as they don’t try to return for the child. The previous law allowed only three days.
  • In Florida parents of newborns can leave the child — unharmed and up to three days old — at any fire rescue station, emergency medical services station or hospital, anonymously and without fear of prosecution.

I just can’t understand how someone abandons 9 children after they have been raising them for the last 15 years. This law seems like it was created for cop-out parents…



About the author

Lisa Arneill

SAHM of 2 boys and founder of GrowingYourBaby.com and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!


  • I cannot conceive at all of ever abandoning my children.. unless I knew for a fact that I was a danger to them. Yes, I’m sure these laws get abused by parents who just want an easy way out. Still, I really wonder if, had this sort of option / law been available to Diane Downs in Oregon – would she have surrendered her children to the state instead of shooting them on the roadside?

  • I am glad they have an any age law. Remember the cases of the moms drowning and killing children due to post partum or that their current boyfriend doesn’t want them to have children or just some crazy thing. This may save the lives of children. Without stigma. This should be in every state. It sounds overwhelming but if a parent won’t take care of their children should they have them? You are not going to make parents take care of their children by not allowing something like this. The only thing that happens is that the children suffer under neglect. Is it an easy way out? If you love your child you will do everything in your power to keep them.

Leave a Comment