Guest Blogs

Safe Haven for Kids

As the parent of a child with ADHD and special needs, I can sympathize with parents who just can’t handle special needs children.

My coworker, Betsy, and I listened to public radio as we drove home from a conference a couple of weeks ago. She’s 24 and single, and at this point, anyway, doesn’t see herself as ever becoming a parent.

A story came on about Nebraska’s Safe Haven law. I assume this story has made national, not just regional news — but here’s a recap: Nebraska’s Safe Haven law allows parents to leave babies at hospital emergency rooms — no questions asked, no fear of prosecution. Although intended to protect newborns, Nebraska’s law covers children ages 0-19. It’s being used not only by teenage girls who manage to deny pregnancy until they give birth in a porta-potty, but by parents or guardians of older children, many of whom have mental health or behavior problems. People are shocked. Betsy said she can’t imagine such a thing.

I guess I have an exceptional imagination.

In my world — in the global world — abandonment is real. I adopted my daughter from an orphanage in Russia. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the circumstances that lead birth mothers in other countries to place their children in the care of others.

And, I’ve had a small taste of what it’s like to parent a troubled child. I worked in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids when I was first out of college, then with adults with chronic mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, some of whom were parents, some of kids with mental health or behavior disorders. Last but not least, I’m the parent of a child with (relatively mild) special needs.

Don’t misunderstand me — I’m far, far, far from wanting to take a road trip to Nebraska. But, what if…

…we weren’t financially stable?

…we had no health insurance?

…we were homeless?

…we had no support from extended family?

…one of us had a drug or alcohol problem, or a mental health problem?

…I had no spouse?

…we lost our jobs?

…there was a shortage of Ritalin?

…we lost our services?

…I wasn’t savvy enough to access the special services that are out there?

…the services out there weren’t good enough to make a difference?

…we had more than one child with special needs?

…Nat’s special needs were more severe?

What if several of those things were true? Problems like those don’t just add up-one plus one equals two. They compound exponentially.

Thankfully, I’m more likely to end up on a beach in Mexico than an E.R. in Nebraska.

But, unlike Betsy, I can imagine.

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