Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If you want compassion in Nebraska, call a cop

    While the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and in particular its Director of Children and Family Services, Todd Landry, show appalling callousness toward families driven by desperation to use the state's unusually broad "safe haven" law, the Lincoln, Neb. Police department is taking a different approach.

    According to the Omaha World-Herald:

[Lincoln Police Chief Tom] Casady criticized state lawmakers and state health agencies that portray mental health care and other services for children as easy to find and simple to receive. People consider using the safe haven law, he said, in large part because they find the existing services lacking. He said that necessary help for parents in distress isn't always available on nights and weekends and that children fall through the cracks if they aren't deemed suicidal or violent.

"I'm a little mystified that people are so surprised by this outcome," Casady said of the 19 safe haven children. "People seem to be exposed to this for the first time. I've had these fed-up parents crying in my office for years and years."

Lincoln police officers often engage the parent when called to a safe haven case. They try to determine what problems the family is having and suggest an alternative if they know of one. Twice, a child destined to be abandoned under the law has ended up in temporary psychiatric care at a Lincoln hospital because of this interaction, Casady said.

But don't expect similar help from cops in Omaha, where they do little more than process the paperwork.

There's a similar divide among hospitals. Some do nothing but accept the child. The head of the social work department at Creighton University Medical Center says they're not going to try to help families keep their children because "we feel we'd be putting a child potentially in harm's way." Right. Like consigning a child to the Nebraska foster care system isn't "harm's way." What she really means, I suspect, is "If we persuaded a parent to keep her child and then something went wrong, we might be sued."

At first, Immanuel Medical Center responded in the same manner as Creighton "…but then we started to talk," the hospital's chief operating officer told the World-Herald. "We said: 'What if we could intervene and make a difference?'" And so far they have, for three families.

Of course, Todd Landry has his own solution to how to help these families, and no one who's read his other comments will be surprised at what it is: Shove the problem back under the rug. As the World-Herald reported:

Landry believes state lawmakers should change the law to apply only to newborns up to 72 hours old. "You fix that situation, and I think all these other questions disappear," he said.

The questions – and the families – don't actually go away, of course, they just "disappear." Apparently for Landry, that's all that matters.

Fortunately, not everyone in power in Nebraska supports Landry's sweep-it-under-the-rug approach. Even as lawmakers line up to support the 72-hour limit, the World-Herald reports that State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha also plans to introduce legislation to make it easier for families to get help without surrendering their children.