The only true safe haven for children is a loving home
Yes, its true, frantic parents are racing toward Nebraska from across the country in a desperate attempt to secure help for their children with severe behavioral problems.
More than 30 children were dropped off at Nebraska hospitals or police stations, five from outside the state using Nebraska's Safe Haven Law. The law, designed to prevent so-called "dumpster babies," is the only one in the United States that does not specify the age of the child who is relinquished into the custody of the state without fear of prosecution for abandonment.
Even if this law is amended by the Nebraska Legislature Special Session November 14, the reaction to it brings to light a deeper, national problem for America's hurting families.
In Father Flanagan's day, many children found "safe haven" at Boys Town after being "dropped off" by their families. In fact, the two kids that inspired the "two brothers" image of one boy carrying another were both abandoned at Boys Town by their mothers. Today, a few children make it to Boys Town this way, but it is not the ideal way for them to get help.
Just as America's throwaway boys taught Father Flanagan "There's no such thing as a bad boy," my children are teaching me "There's no such thing as a bad family." One of my girls, Angela is an example. Angela's mom would get high and physically abuse her. She even broke Angela's arm. Yet, after Angela finally made it to Boys Town, she would cry because she still loves and misses her Mom.
We know there are good elements in each family. We know how to work with Angela to overcome the behavioral problems created by abuse and neglect, and we will work with her family, too. In spite of her family's problems, we know there are ways to help them fight for her and be worthy of Angela's fierce love.
When Angela arrived at Boys Town she had physical and emotional scars. Adding to her issues was a state agency wanting to place her in a foster home instead of the treatment-based program she needed. This would be like placing Angela in physical therapy before the bone in her broken arm was set. If Boys Town wouldn't have fought for her, Angela's pain would increase and so would the likelihood of her destroying a good foster couple.
This happens every day in America when a child seeks behavioral health services. In an effort to contain costs, states mistakenly place children in a setting that cannot cure the problem; or the child is sent home too quickly. The worst part, it is really bad for the child. Also, no one would work with Angela's family. Besides working with Angela, Boys Town is working with the healthy parts of her family, teaching skills so they can support her, while helping access services for drug addiction and mental health support. This gives families the skills to exercise what Father Flanagan called, "the sacred office of parenthood."
We also are setting Angela up for success and helping her get her high school diploma. Children like Angela are part of a severe decline in high school graduation rates. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, a child who does not graduate can cost American taxpayers $53,000 a year and as much as $2.5 million over a lifetime because of lower income taxes, higher rates of incarceration and greater use of social services. About 83 percent of children Boys Town works with get their high school diploma and are more likely to pursue post-secondary education.
As someone who works with these children and families each day, I beg two things of America.
First, parents, fight for your children. Never give up and ask for help early. You can find help at www.boystown.org or by calling the Boys Town National Hotline: 800-448-3000 to speak to a counselor who can help you in a crisis. Our Hotline provides calm advice and helps children or parents access other resources in their community.
To enlightened legislators and state human service officials, I ask you to form partnerships with quality providers like Boys Town to link services. Getting children and families the right care at the right time is critical. We know this will truly create a "safe haven" for America's hurting youth. We already know dropping them off isn't the answer.
Father Steven Boes, National Executive
Director of Boys Town
12 November 2008