Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Omaha: You can dump your kid here

I was born to parents who -- by life experience in a grindingly dysfunctional culture of white poverty -- had been rendered uniquely incapable, in many ways, of successfully raising a child.

The process of trying to, however, probably left them with more than a few scars and more than a little heartbreak. I know it left me with a lot more scars and a lifetime of heartbreak. You'd be surprised how far the ripples of sin and stupidity can travel through space, families and time.

MY FOLKS HAD the misfortune of growing up hard. Real hard. That's how many came up during the Depression in the Deep South amid a folk culture where, for example, comets were still terrifying omens and it was "better" for little girls to help around the house than, say . . . go to school.

Not to mention where curing bad coughs often involved eating Vicks salve. (Note: Vicks smells better than it tastes.)

I had the misfortune of growing up at the mercy of parents raised, as it were, by wolves and incapable of admitting -- most notably to themselves -- how messed up that was.

But they did their best with their baby boy. Their best wasn't great, but they muddled through. I'm muddling through still.

For all their struggles, dysfunction and redneck insanity, though, there's one thing Mama and Daddy never did. One thing they never could have conceived of doing, no matter what . . . and no matter what a damn mess their kid might have been (and I was).

They never would have loaded me up in the old Mercury, pulled out onto the highway and drove until they found a city where they thought they could get away with dumping my ass.

They never in a million years would have done what the Omaha World-Herald
reports a Detroit-area mother did with her son early Monday:
A Michigan mother drove more than 700 miles to leave her 13-year-old son at an Omaha hospital in the middle of the night - a place where the family had no ties.

What drew her, according to officials with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, was Nebraska's unique safe haven law.

The teen became the second child from another state to be left at a Nebraska hospital under the law, which sets no age limit on the children who can be left.

A 14-year-old Council Bluffs girl was left last week at Creighton University Medical Center. She has since been returned to her family.

The safe haven law, which took effect July 18, says people cannot be prosecuted in Nebraska for leaving a child with a hospital employee on duty. They can, however, be charged with other acts of abuse and neglect and can lose their parental rights.

In the Michigan case, a woman identifying herself as the boy's mother left him at the Creighton hospital about 1:30 a.m. Monday, said Todd Landry, children and family services director for HHS. The family is from the Detroit area.

Landry said the boy's mother remained in Nebraska at least until Monday afternoon and had talked with state officials at least twice.

HHS officials were still gathering and verifying information, but it appeared the mother came to Nebraska specifically to drop off the teen, who has since been placed at an emergency shelter.

"Just like every other of the instances of safe haven use, the child does not appear to be and was not in any immediate danger of being harmed in any way," Landry said.

He said he could not give information about why the family decided to make use of the safe haven law. He said there was no indication the teen had violent tendencies and that he was not a state ward in Michigan.
THIS IS BECOMING an epidemic. Omaha has become American parents' landfill of choice for abandoning their "flawed" offspring. Or for flawed parents to cast off little people who so unfairly prevent them from hitting the "reset button" on their own out-of-control lives.

Only rarely do the consequences of a flawed law become so shockingly obvious so shockingly quickly. Something is seriously wrong in America . . . and I don't mean the economy or the stock market.


There's been a common denominator in recent coverage of Nebraska's safe-haven debacle that I don't want to hear another word about. The latest example came in
a story Monday evening on Omaha's KETV television:
For parents facing that situation, however, getting help can sometimes be extremely difficult.

KETV talked with a local social worker whose goal is keep families together.

She said that while Nebraska’s Safe Haven law seems like an option for troubled youth, it really isn’t helping anyone.

Bonnie Sarton Meirau has spent 15 years working with families and troubled youth and she said she understands why families may be taking advantage of the new law.

"I think they feel like they're out of options, there's a hopelessness and helplessness that unfortunately Safe Haven feeds in to," Mierau said.
I CALL BULLSHIT. If a Michigan mom has the money and the time and the energy to bundle her 13-year-old problem child and drive 12 hours to Omaha Effing Nebraska for the express purpose of abandoning the kid at a hospital emergency room, she has the wherewithal to track down and access whatever help might be available to her in greater Detroit.

Which I will guaran-damn-tee you is far more extensive than what was available to my flawed parents and their flawed kid nearly four decades ago in a Southern backwater. Shockingly -- at least by today's standards, apparently -- no children were thrown away in the telling of my life story.

Oh, today's poor parents. How did they ever manage before the Nebraska Legislature made it possible for them to unburden themselves of their most pressing problems -- which, unfortunately, seem to be their children?

Though I'm sure social services could be better and more accessible all across these United States in this troubled age, this scarred child of whack parents is here to tell America that's not our biggest problem in this whole mess. No matter what Channel 7 says.

No, what we have here is not a social-services crisis. What we have here is an asshole-parents crisis.

Would that it were as easily fixed as bureaucratic shortcomings. Or nonspecific state laws.

1 comment:

Mommy interrupted said...

You would not believe how little services are available to middle class families. In Michigan where I live I have next to no help with my 12 year old son. He was adopted from foster care at age 5 from a horrible home. He has RAD, bi-polar, severe ADHD and scizophernia. His only service is counciling 30 minutes 2x/month in the Detroit area. They just try to medicate him. It doesn't work! There are many more services available to children still in the system. Sometimes the ONLY thing left a parent can do is put their child into the system so they can get their treatment. It is a painfull decision we had to make and I miss my son more than you can imagine. It is not always the parents that are broken. I don't know what is happening with this particular familiy but I'm guessing if she cared enough to drive that far for help then it probably HAD to be done.