November 22, 2008

Safe Haven

Safe-Haven Laws exist to protect babies from being abused or neglected. Instead, parents have the option of legally leaving their child at a safe haven, turning the child over to the state. Age restrictions for these laws vary by state. In Illinois, for example, this law applies only to children up to seven days old.

Earlier this year, Nebraska's legislators were implementing their law, but could not agree on an age restriction. Because they didn't specify an age limit, the state has seen a surge of parents dropping off older children and even teenagers at these safe havens. I cannot imagine what it must do to the psyche of a child to be abandoned by a parent like that. It honestly breaks my heart.

On Friday's 20/20, the journalists profiled families who have taken advantage of this law because their children suffered from mental disorders that they could not handle (most common was bipolar). These children were endangering their own lives or the lives of others (parents or siblings), many had been hospitalized countless times, and the families had reached their breaking point.

I found myself angry as I watched these stories. Not because the parents had given up, but because people do not have the resources they need to support their children. I wonder how many of these families do not have access to mental health care or resources because of a lack of awareness and/or coverage.

As someone dating a mental health professional, I am far too aware of the lack of respect for mental illness. It is so unfortunate that there is such a negative stigma about these issues. Many insurers do not cover mental health issues, or they offer very limited coverage. In a society that is obsessed with the health of our bodies and spirit, how can we ignore the mind?

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