Arizona Recently Had Custody of Teen Dropped Off in Nebraska

By Ray Stern

A 16-year-old girl dropped off Sunday under Nebraska's flawed safe-haven law was a ward of the state of Arizona from August to October of 2008, Nebraska health officials state in a news release.

The girl's mother brought her to the Midlands Hospital in Papillion, Nebraska (pictured) on Sunday afternoon and legally abandoned her, according to the release.

From the release:

Based on information available so far, DHHS’ understanding is that in October, the Arizona court agreed to dismiss the case at the request of the mother, who desired to return to Nebraska to have more support from family and friends located here. The mother and daughter appear to have returned to Nebraska just last week.

The girl had been a ward of Nebraska from September 2007 to March 2008 before the mother moved her to Arizona, the release states. An Associated Press article quotes a Papillion police lieutenant saying the girl had lived previously in Papillion, which is south of Omaha. The mother didn't give a reason for dropping off the girl, but "obviously, there's concerns about being able to care for her daughter," the lieutenant told the AP. He goes on to say the girl ""was unaware she was being dropped off" and has been placed in state custody.

Nebraska's safe haven law, signed by Governor Dave Heineman on February 13, was supposed to be similar to laws in every state -- including Arizona -- that allow mothers to abandon unwanted newborn infants legally. But the new law substituted the word "child" for "infant," granting parents the right to abandon any child up to 18 years old. Parents dumped nearly 30 kids on Nebraska authorities since the law took effect. Heineman has called for a special session of the Nebraska Legislature to begin November 14 to solve the problem.

Before that happens, though, the case of the teen from Arizona could cause extra headaches for authorities. An Iowa news site quotes a Nebraska Health and Human Services officials saying, "Nebraska officials had not yet determined whether they need to work with Arizona child welfare officials on the case."

Locally, state Child Protective Services is looking into the case in response to a call from New Times, says spokesman Fernando Vender.

UPDATE (2:33 p.m.):

Jeanne Atkinson, spokeswoman with the Nebraska Health and Human Services Department, says the teen had lived in Tucson while in Arizona, and that she had been in Nebraska for less than a week before her mother dropped her off at the hospital.

Even if the girl's mother had driven her straight from Arizona to the hospital, the state's safe haven law would have allowed the abandonment, Atkinson says, because the law allows any person to drop off children, not just state residents. Three children from other states have been dropped off in Nebraska in recent weeks; two were returned to their homes states after Nebraska negotiated with the families, she says.

The 16-year-old from Arizona knows by now that her mother had abandoned her under Nebraska's law, Atkinson says. Nebraska officials empathize with the plight of families who feel compelled to abandon their older children, but "we hope they don't use this option."