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25 for 25: Lessons Learned from Safe Haven

We are commemorating our 25th Anniversary with 25 posts about our history and accomplishments between now and the Spotlight Gala on September 15.  Join us for a celebration of Voices for Children and all of the organizations, lawmakers, and individuals who have supported our work on behalf of children.  For details, visit voicesforchildren.com/spotlight-gala.


As an advocacy organization, you can’t expect to win every battle. In our 25 years as an organization, there are a number of losses that we haven’t been able to prevent despite our best efforts.

Now, you may be thinking that it’s a bit odd to talk about defeats in a series of posts that’s supposed to be celebrating our anniversary. But then again our motto is “telling the whole story” for a reason, right?

And what’s more, in every loss for kids there are lessons our organization has learned, improvements that we’ve made, and solutions that we’ve worked for.

Take just one example: Nebraska’s now infamous Safe Haven Law, LB 157, adopted in 2008.

The basic idea behind safe haven laws is that they protect children by allowing parents to drop infants they can’t care for at certain locations without worrying about facing abandonment charges.

When Nebraska’s law was adopted, Voices for Children had been advocating in the Legislature against “safe haven” laws for nearly a decade.

Why have we opposed these laws? First, they don’t go about protecting children in the right way. Instead of helping new parents who are overwhelmed cope and properly provide them with support to be successful, loving parents, these laws encourage these parents to delegate their job to the state, which is a poor substitute.

Second, information is important to successful adoptions. Medical and family histories are important to children’s well-being and sense of identity, and safe haven laws don’t have a mechanism for capturing all of this information.

So despite years and years of preventing this policy from being adopted, in 2008, the Legislature moved forward despite our research, testimony, and best efforts. To make matters worse, Nebraska became the first state to enact a safe haven law without an age limit, allowing children of any age to be dropped off and left to the state’s care.

Within a few months, 36 children were relinquished to the state. 22 of them were teenagers and 34 had received prior mental health treatment. 20 were former state wards.

The weaknesses of Nebraska’s child welfare and behavioral health systems were laid bare for all to see.

In 2009, LB 603 created a “front door” to the children’s behavioral health system, including a helpline, family navigator program, post-adoption services, and expanded access to Kids Connection, children’s health insurance.  While a special session of the legislature soon limited the law to infants under 30 days old, no additional support to families or children was provided. Two losses in a row didn’t stop us from continuing to advocate for improvements, though.

We still have a long way to go to improve our child welfare and behavioral health systems and we’ve learned some hard lessons along the way, but with persistence, we know we can keep turning defeats into eventual victories.

Thank you to taking the time to share!

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