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I had this absolutely wonderful plan.  I  was going to drop my younger son off at school, come home, and go immmediately to sleep until I had to pick him up again, because the way my life is going at present, Friday is the only day I don’t have something I have to do.  Instead, of course, here I am, far too wired to get any sleep, which probably means the fever will be back by dinner time.

But there are a couple of things that wandered across my not particularly focussed attention, so let me get to them.

First, I still disagree with Robert–nothing new started in 1964 in terms of tourists at the revolution, except maybe that a far larger percentage of the public fit the description.   The  Princess Casamassima did indeed make damn sure to find herself a safe revolution–that’s why she was romancing anarchists in  England instead of in Italy–and so did  Shelley, who was always meticulous about removing himself to another country before even so much as criticizing the one he started in.

But there’s something else that came up, and  I haven’t figured out how or what to think about it yet.

The state of Nebraska had a problem a while back with newborns and infants being found dead or badly neglected because their mothers or other caregivers were unable to handle the new responsibility.   You hear about cases like this every once in a while:  the girl who gives birth at the prom and puts the baby in the dumpster, and that kind of thing.

Nebraska looked into the situation and found that the young mothers were resistance to coming forward and handing the children off to child services because they didn’t want anyone to know they had ever been pregnant, or they didn’t want to deal with the kind of rules and oversight child services would provide.

Okay, we’re not dealing with rocket scientists here, and the girls would usually be very young and very immature.  So the Nebraska state legislature decided that the lesser of two evils would be to do something that would save the child.   They therefore passed a law that said that any parent could drop off such a child at any hospital in the state, no questions asked, and the state would take over the care of it.

There’s a certain kind of logic to this, and it does seem to me to be a better thing to save the child than to let it die in the name of forcing a young mother who is obviously not capable to “face up to her responsibilities.”  The problem was that the  Nebraska legislature wrote the law in such a way that it put no age restrictions on the children to be left at the hospitals.

From the day the law went into effect until now, all but four of the twenty-seven children left at  Nebraska hospitals under its provisions have been at least ten years old, and many of them have been teen-agers.  Not even one has been an infant or a newborn.  What’s more, the children have not all been  Nebraskans.  One father flew his son up from Miami, dropped him off in a hospital waiting room, and flew back home.

There’s a Slate article here


that gives a pretty good overview, although it is,  in a few places, knee jerk in a way that has bothered me about a number of the stories about this situation.  For one thing, it tends to assume that the majority of parents who decide to drop off older children are doing so frivolously, as a way to dump ordinary adult responsibilities on the state.

The more I look at the stories, however, the odder all this becomes.  Some of the cases make a certain amount of sense.  A number of the children have been severely disabled or otherwise ill.  If you’re a single mother with four children one of whom requires so much care that the other three are being neglected, or worse, the option of handing that child over to authorities who know how to care for him may not be an idea you love but it may make some sense.

A lot of these kids, however, seem simply to be wild, or disobedient, to be going through the kind of adolescent rebellion we generally consider normal.  When I looked through the list of children legally abandoned, I was surprised at the high percentage of males between 12 and 14, just the age at which boys get taller and stronger and stupider all at the same time. 

I can’t see, however, that this is just a case of feckless parents wanting to live without responsibilities.  For one thing, plenty of parents actually are like that, and they don’t take their kids to Nebraska to abandon them.  They just ignore them right at home, at which point the kid gets into trouble and gets sent to juvie or, if the kid is much younger, somebody at school or the doctor’s office gets alarmed at the fact that he keeps showing up dirty and hungry and disoriented and calls in the cavalry.

But in most of these cases, the parents are not only not in a hurry to hand their kids over to the state, they’re positively furious at the state’s attempts to interfere.   Even the kind of parent it’s hard not to consider hopeless–crack addicted, criminal, mentally ill–fights for custody of his or her children most of them time.  Especially if the child is small.  

i can’t, at the moment, figure out what is going on here.   So many of these kids are adolescents, I wonder if some parents, at least, don’t become less attached to their children as the children grow older.  Maybe thre’s a problem here caused by the way in which we’ve prolonged “childhood” far beyond its natural parameters.  

As late as the Victorian era in Britain, most twelve year olds would either have been spending their time at boarding schools or shipped off to be apprentices.   Maybe there were reasons for that beyond what anybody was willing to say out loud.  

It seems odd to me, though, that a parent would willingly walk away from a child knowing she would never see him again, or even hear from him. 

And that’s especially true because most states do have provisions for parents to voluntarily give up custody of children they don’t think they can properly care for.  If you think your child is “incorrigible,” the state of Connecticut will take him over and do it without forbidding you to have any contact with him.

So I don’t understand what is going on here.   Twenty seven children is not that many in a country full of children.  It’s not even that many in one state, and these children did not all come from the same state.   I wish there was more information on the families and the children involved.  

Meanwhile, Nebraska is busy amending its law so that it applis only to babies in the first few days or weeks of life,  and the governor was on television this morning begging parents not to bring their children to Nebraska to abandon them.

What the hell.

Written by janeh

November 14th, 2008 at 10:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Scattered'

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  1. I’d heard about the Nebraska law and the unintended consequences. And I’m a bit surprised that some of these people don’t go through the procedures that I think most jurisdictions have for ceding custody of a child through the courts. Maybe it’s less shaming to do it anonymously in Nebraska than to go to a local judge and confess that you can no longer bear to have your own child in the house.

    I’m not particularly surprised that people give up custody of their own child. It’s not that unusual, especially in the case of poverty or illness or disability (of the parent or child), and hard as it is sometimes for the parent, there are certainly cases in which giving up custody is really in the best interests of everyone. Not to mention cases in which I really have to wonder if the children wouldn’t actually be better off in a foster home, or even an orphanage (if we still had them).

    I’m also not surprised that so many of the children are adolescents, and adolescent boys in particular. I think that sometimes parents don’t insist on a certain amount of discipline when the children are very young, and then when they get big enough to be dangerous and nasty, the parents don’t know what to do. That makes me sound like a kind of hardliner on child rearing (which I usually try not to comment on at all, although I think about it), but I’ve known parents who seem to only get really concerned about their children’s behaviour when the children enter adolescence and are approaching an age at which they should fit into the workforce or further education. At this stage, they can get into a wider range of trouble, from drug and alcohol use and abuse, through crime, to fathering/bearing children of their own. They can also be unpleasant or even frightening to live with. And there may be no end in sight if the child in question is unemployable.

    What surprises me is the ages of the older boys – 17! They wouldn’t be of age here (the age of majority is 19) but surely a 17-year-old should be able to scrape some kind of living if things at home are that bad – unless of course, he’s severely disabled. It seems absurd to treat most 17-year-olds as children in need of protection and guidance! In a year, maybe two or three depending on local laws, they wouldn’t be the responsibility of another adult anyway! Some parents do, indeed, push their teen children out – sometimes for apparently trivial matters, other times for frightening and threatening behaviour. Perhaps the parents in Nebraska are ones who can’t quite bring themselves to let the boys work out their problems on their own.

    I think around here the local authorities find group home placements or rooming houses or apartments for people in the 16-19 age group who can’t or won’t stay at home. There’s social assistance, but the payout for able-bodied single folks is very low. I don’t know much about the program, and I think the more middle-class youth tend to couch surf and crash instead. So the phenomena of teens who don’t or can’t or won’t live with their parents is well-known, although few seem to go the legal route to break the family bonds.

    Why are these people treated as children to be put into care instead of near-adults to be helped to independence?


    14 Nov 08 at 12:22 pm

  2. A general comment. For most of the history of the human race, people have been hunter-gathers or small peasant farmers. Once the hormones hit, young people stopped being children and became productive adult members of the community.

    We do seem to have a conflict between our biology and our culture of treating young people with raging hormones as children.


    14 Nov 08 at 3:20 pm

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