Policy & Practice: Advocacy
November 10, 2008
Honorable Members of the Nebraska State Legislature:
I am writing on behalf of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute to strongly urge you - as you move to amend LB 157 - to view this as an opportunity to reshape practices so they will genuinely help children at risk by addressing the root causes of the problem of unsafe infant abandonment.
In the way of quick background, the Adoption Institute is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit that does not make money from adoption and has no financial or other vested interest in this issue or its outcome. The Institute is the pre-eminent national policy, research and education organization in its field; its mission is to improve the lives of everyone touched by adoption - especially children - by promoting better laws, policies and "best practices" that are based on sound research.
I understand your current special session is restricted to imposing an age limit on children who may be abandoned anonymously under Nebraska law. When the 101st legislature convenes in January 2009, I respectfully request that it consider additional amendments to the state's safe haven statute that address the following principal findings of research conducted by the Adoption Institute:
- Evidence is lacking to demonstrate that safe havens are reducing unsafe abandonment, while the laws may in fact be increasing the total number of abandonments of all types;
- There is no credible evidence that the women who utilize safe havens would have unsafely abandoned their infants in the absence of these laws and, conversely, that women who illegally/unsafely desert newborns would use safe havens; and
- A number of problematic, unintended outcomes are evidently caused by the laws.
- Expand pregnancy prevention efforts, including education and relevant services;
- Enhance outreach and access to support services, including confidential and nondirective pregnancy options counseling, crisis intervention, and medical and financial assistance;
- Increase education about and access to confidential, low/no-cost prenatal and hospital care;
- Educate parents, social workers, guidance counselors, nurses and physicians about the signs of pregnancy concealment and denial;
- Amend "safe haven" laws to guard against negative outcomes by:
- Replacing anonymity with guaranteed confidentiality;
- Ensuring only parents with legal custody can abandon an infant;
- Providing mechanisms for a non-abandoning parent to gain custody;
- Requiring "safe haven" facilities to provide the abandoning person with information on options counseling and the implications of abandonment on parental rights;
- Facilitating the acquisition of medical information, at abandonment and in the future;
- Providing a process for parents to reclaim infants within a reasonable designated period, and informing abandoning adults of the procedure at the time of abandonment;
- Requiring searches for non-abandoning parent/relatives within a specified timeframe;
- Providing for expedited termination of parental rights, and timely transfer of custody to the state child welfare department for adoption, once reclaiming period has expired;
- Mandating assessment of the law's effectiveness with data collection, including number of abandonments (legal and illegal) and disposition of subsequent infant placements;
- Training personnel at safe haven sites, including in referrals for options counseling; and
- Requiring the state child welfare department to submit routine reports to the legislature analyzing the law's efficacy and consequences.