ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Today, Nebraska's state legislature holds a special session to address the problem of its safe-haven law. This law prohibits prosecution of people who leave their child behind at a hospital. It was meant to protect new born infants from being abandoned. But at least 30 children have been left behind, some as old as 17. Joining us from Lincoln, Nebraska is Todd Landry. He's the director of Children and Family Services for the state. Good morning.
Mr. TODD LANDRY (Director, Division of Children and Family Services, Nebraska): Good morning.
SHAPIRO: I imagine this law has been a real embarrassment for you guys, huh?
Mr. LANDRY: Well, actually, I think it's been more an example of unintended consequences. The bill was originally introduced by Senator Arnie Stuthman. It had a three-day or a 72-hour presumed age limit which is what about 16 other states in the country have. Once it got to the floor of the legislature though, many of our legislators were undecided about what the exact right age would be. For example, do you want to say that you're protecting a three-day-old but not a five-day old? Should it be a 30-day old or should it be a three-month old? And because of that, they chose instead to simply use the word 'child' and leave it undefined.
SHAPIRO: And that's where your headache began.
Mr. LANDRY: That's exactly right. Unfortunately, that opened the door to these unintended consequences of the teenagers and the preteens who may be having some behavioral issues or other issues and parents have been leaving those kids at the hospital.
SHAPIRO: What do the parents say about why they're abandoning some of these older children?
Mr. LANDRY: Well, for the most part, most of them are saying that they were frustrated with their child's behaviors or inability to follow their rules. You know, I'm a parent of a teenager myself and so I can tell you I can empathize with what many parents around our country on a daily basis go through with sometimes rebellious teenagers.
SHAPIRO: So what happens when a 13-year-old or a 17-year-old gets left at the hospital and abandoned?
Mr. LANDRY: Once the child is left at the hospital, the person won't be prosecuted for that. But they're certainly not out of the picture. They could be ordered to pay for child support, services may be ordered, every single case is unique and individual.
SHAPIRO: Have most of the teenagers who have been abandoned eventually been returned to their family or are those kids now in foster care? What's happened to them?
Mr. LANDRY: For the most part, most of these kids are still state wards. They are, for the most part, in either foster homes or relative homes. None of them have been returned yet to the custody of the parent who actually left them at the hospital.
SHAPIRO: What kind of consequences does it have for a teenager to go through literal abandonment?
Mr. LANDRY: Well, that is certainly one of our biggest concerns. When a newborn is left at a hospital, that newborn is not going to have a specific memory of being abandoned. However, when you're talking about a 13-year-old, a 15-year-old, a 17-year old, they certainly do definitely remember that and our fear is that the act of abandoning these kids is actually creating more problems than what the parents are trying to fix or remedy.
SHAPIRO: So Nebraska State legislators convening today for a special session to change the language of this law, what do you expect it'll say?
Mr. LANDRY: Well, I expect that at least one bill that will be introduced will actually modify the law so that the definition of the word "child" is focused on newborns and infants 72 hours of age or younger. The soonest the bill can get to the governor for signature would be on Friday, November 21st which is what we're planning on.
SHAPIRO: Todd Landry is the director of Children and Family Services for the State of Nebraska. Thanks a lot.
Mr. LANDRY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.