OMAHA, Neb. — Nine siblings are among 11 children as old as 17 who were left at Omaha hospitals Wednesday under Nebraska's unique and new safe haven law, which allows caregivers to abandon babies and teenagers alike at hospitals without fear of prosecution.
The law, originally intended to protect infants, was expanded in a legislative compromise to protect any "child." Some have interpreted that to mean anyone younger than 19.
Gov. Dave Heineman, who signed the law, and some other former supporters are among those now saying changes are needed.
"People are leaving them off just because they can't control them," state Sen. Arnie Stuthman, who introduced the original bill, said Thursday. "They're probably in no real danger, so it's an easy way out for the caretaker."
The nine siblings — five boys and four girls ages 1 to 17 — were left by their father, who was not identified, at Creighton University Medical Center's emergency room, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Unrelated boys ages 11 and 15 also were surrendered Wednesday at Immanuel Medical Center.
At least 16 children have been abandoned since the law took effect in July, the state agency said.
Todd Landry, director of the state division of Children and Family Services, said that in nearly every case, the parents who left their children felt overwhelmed and had decided they didn't want to be parents anymore. None of the kids dropped off so far have been in danger, he said.
The department was still investigating Wednesday's dropoffs. The abandoned siblings were in no danger and it wasn't clear why their father gave them up, Landry said. Five of the nine siblings were placed in a foster home and the rest were taken to an emergency shelter, he said. The department was working on a new arrangement that would keep the kids together.
In the other cases on Wednesday, one child was temporarily placed in foster care and the other was in the hospital for evaluation.