LJWorld.com weblogs Notes from John
Nebraska's parenting problem: Is it happening here?
You may have read or heard that Nebraska has a little problem with its safe haven law. Safe haven laws were designed to solve the problem of pregnant women, mostly young, leaving babies in trash cans and bathrooms. These laws provide that women who leave their babies in places like hospitals will not be prosecuted for child abuse or neglect. Never mind that most women at the time of giving birth are not rationally determining how they will dispose of a baby.The Nebraska legislature in its wisdom broadened its safe haven law to protect any child not just newborns. Well a family that included five boys and four girls took up the offer. The children are now in state custody. This is an extreme but not unique incident. Other smaller families are also accepting the offer.Could this happen here or is it already happening?The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) reports that last year they investigated 9,344 calls to their child abuse hot lines with concerns that were not abuse or neglect. These are typically concerns about child behaviors that are difficult to manage. These seem to be the first cries for help by someone in the community.One response to these situations is out of home placement. That is where the Nebraska children went. SRS reports that of 3,610 children placed into foster care during the last fiscal year, the primary reason for placement was something other than child abuse or neglect for 1,376. Here is the breakdown for these placements.¢child behavior problems - 322 children¢caretakers inability to care for the child 282 children¢truancy 170 children¢'other' - 602 children.The rather large 'other' category includes the child's alcohol or drug abuse, child's disability, death of parent, failure to thrive, inadequate housing, incarceration of parents, parent-child conflict, relinquishment and runaway. Mostly family problems unrelated to abuse or neglect.So between 22% and 29% of out of home placements were because of something other than abuse or neglect. Were these families giving up?We are all familiar with behaviors of children that are difficult to manage. Those who haven't been parents can think back on their own difficult behaviors when they were children. For most children and parents growing up can be difficult at times but manageable. However some children have extreme behaviors that are difficult for anyone to manage and parents vary widely in their ability to cope. These families need help.Many community agencies as well as SRS also work with these families. However with about 25% of out of home placements being primarily for reasons other than abuse or neglect apparently these services are not sufficiently effective. Kansas may not have the same problem as Nebraska but we clearly have a similar problem with many families not getting the help they need.