Father Dumps 9 Children at Nebraska Hospital

Posted September 29, 2008 by

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Update: The father who dropped off his 9 children under the Safe Haven law has spoken to the press about why he left his kids at the hospital. Sadly, his wife died 17 months ago, leaving him to care for his children, and he was not able to financially, emotionally and mentally take care of them. You can read his story here. Other children have been left at hospitals since the Safe Haven law went into effect, and Nebraska lawmakers are currently working to clarify its meaning — and also are encouraging parents to seek outside help before abandoning their children.

Last week, a father abandoned his 9 children at the Creighton University Medical Center in Nebraska under that state’s Safe Haven law. The kids ranged in age from 1 to 17.

I don’t know what this father’s mental or financial situation was at the time he left his kids at the ER, and I’m not addressing his situation in particular here — who knows what challenges he faced? Still, I wonder if this law in Nebraska will inspire other parents to drop off kids that they are no longer able to, well, parent. (Several other pre-teens and teens have been abandoned at hospitals in Nebraska since the law went into effect.)  While the law was not originally designed to give parents the option of dropping off their troubled teens or pre-teens, many people have interpreted it that way. Omaha State Senator Lowen Kruse told the Omaha Daily News that “there are better ways to deal with this issue, including programs that help teens and families cope.”

I know we’ve all been there with our kids — and frankly, I sympathize with parents who have to kick out older teens who are abusing them , stealing from them or acting in otherwise violent or criminal ways. At some point, you have to stop the insanity, and it’s never an easy decision. But an otherwise normal 11 year old kid? Unless you are financially destitute or mentally or emotionally incapable, I don’t see why you would dump your child at the hospital as if you’re dropping off a kitten at the animal shelter.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve talked to many parents who are struggling with their kids, and I personally have friends and family in very difficult parenting situations with children who act out and are at times very tough to deal with.  Kudos to those of you out there who are sticking with it no matter what, even though sticking with it is not the easiest route.

What do you think? Is the Safe Haven law a good idea for parents in some situations? Are there cases where you think it makes sense for a parent to take advantage of it?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. tsong Report

    A man drops off NINE of his children for anyone else to take care of. Courageous… maybe. Cowardly… possibly. All I know is that I have been a single mother, raising my daughter alone for her entire life (13 years) with no help from her father. Maybe this man’s wife did all the child rearing work and he worked outside the home. The breadwinner. With the loss of his wife, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for him to cope with the culture shock of being thrust into the fulltime caretaker role. With that many kids, it’s too expensive to send them to childcare while you work. His best bet, like I had to do, was to get on welfare, get foodstamps and Medicaid and at least he’d have had a roof over his head and food in the fridge(especially with what he’d get for NINE kids… MUCH more than I got for my ONE child the 3 years I was on it)He may have had to move to less expensive housing to do this, but at least he’d still have his children. I know that it may have all seemed overwhelming, but then again, you could not imagine how difficult at times things have gotten for my daughter and I and there have been a few times where I felt so overwhelmed doing it alone that I’d have liked to catch the next plane to anywhere and not return. But I stuck thru things with her and we came out the other side and I found out the stuff I was made of. It has made me stronger (and more tired!lol)and I know that no matter what life throws my way, It’ll be ok on the other side of the storm. It helps to be humble enough to ask for help, even from those you don’t much care for. You’d be surprised how willing people are to do the right thing. Don’t just ask once, KEEP on asking.
    With their mother dying, I think the last thing those kids needed was to have their father abandon them, too. I’m going with the coward card. sorry.

  2. Patrice Report

    Like most laws, there are good sides and bad sides. What needs to be focused on is what other alternatives are there for parents that are overwhelmed, or ill, or incapable of parenting, or wanting to get away from the kids so they don’t do something dreadful. So, what IS available. How do you find agencies and organizations that are willing and able to help? I think there should be a section in the phone book, or commercials on TV and radio, or permanent ads in the newspaper, or SOMETHING easily obtained that lists what’s available. I was quite ill myself last year, and if it weren’t for my immediate family taking care of my two children, I don’t know what I could have done. Let’s help people find help.

  3. Lisa Report

    In response to your “next question”:
    I am in no way an expert or even that well informed about the Nebraska law, but the way it stands it has opened up a forum for the availability of child mental health and parental/custodial support systems. I know from experience that family can be the most fickle, turning their backs when trouble arises and casting fierce blame on the parent(s). Neighbors might take a stance of “it takes a village” but their actions can say something else while they take “a different village, not ours, not here, good luck, slam door” approach. I have lived in four different areas of this country, and Kansas was the toughest when it came to people helping outside of their comfort zone. Perhaps Nebraska socially isolates these parents in need as well? I don’t know. Obviously people don’t see alternatives to their situations in the form of guidance or support, so they resort to the Safe Haven law. If they were to tighten the age limits on the current law, I would certainly hope they would address the children whose ages put them outside of that ring of protection and give them the right to the pursuit of happiness as much as the abandoned newborns. It would certainly burden the system to address this giant chasm of need, but why save a newborn from inept parents if you’re going to abandon it socially and emotionally when it’s eleven and has inept parents or guardians? Why did they expand the law to include kids up to 19 years of age if they didn’t know how to or really want to help them? Why send out invitations and then close the door and act surprised when people show up?

  4. Susan Report

    Wow! I am a single mom of one 16 yr old girl that, trust me, I would love to drop off somewhere, most of the time. But you have to stick in there, change and grow as a parent, and get your child to behave. Now, if I had 9 children like her, who knows??? Shouldn’t some of the older children in this family be helping out. Children aren’t pets. I don’t believe you can even drop pets at the pound. Can’t imagine.

  5. Lora Report

    P.S. I object to the title of this article,
    father DUMPS. . . It’s inflammatory and prejudices
    a reader before even knowing the situation. Which,
    we still don’t know fully.

    Overwhelmed grieving father LEAVES children . . .
    would have been kind.

    Again, if the goal is to protect our children then a
    person needs to feel it’s safe to come forward without
    being vilified.

  6. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Lora, I think you and a lot of others on this blog bring up some great points. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these parents in Nebraska had somewhere to turn to before they felt the only choice was to abandon their children? Here’s an update on the story — an article that talks more about what this man in Nebraska was facing; it also mentions some other parents who gave up their children due to acting out behavior and an inability to cope.


    My next question is, do you guys think the Safe Haven Law in Nebraska should stand as it is and not be revised?

  7. Lora Report

    While The Safe Haven law was designed for a different situation than the one this man found himself in I am grateful that those children are safe and there is now
    the opportunity to introduce the help they really need.

    Possibly, a better solution would be an interim Haven,
    as we know there are other families who are
    experiencing similar challenges. For the sake of our
    children I believe it needs to be safe to come forward
    and know you will get help.

  8. Mary Black Report

    Theresa, Please get help for yourself and your teens. They will grow to be abusive to spouse or their children otherwise. I too believe in the LORD. HE gives us resourses to use. Please ask you pastor if he has any ideas of available help. If he doesn’t check with other pastors. But please get yourself and your teens the help you need!

  9. Lisa Report

    In light of the man in California who shot his family yesterday and then himself due to unemployment and financial and emotional strife, I think the Safe Haven is a…safe haven! People generally know what their limits are and if they have no support they at least have an alternative to such a finite decision such as “death” for themselves and their family members. Yes, all systems are abused to some degree, I suppose, but isn’t the point of the safe haven to be just that for someone with no where else to turn? Perhaps he knew of no other alternatives and was despairing with grief. He felt strongly enough to get his kids safe even though he might be self-destructing.

  10. alice Carter Report

    I believe that his cry for help should be answered with help. He would probably be able to care for the children if he had assistance. Housing assistance, food stamps that type of assistance. It seems as if he is having a rough time surviving in lifes way.

  11. DIANE HEIN Report


  12. Annita Report

    This man left his children at a hospital, guided by a law that is designed to protect children. Where is his extended family? Where are the Aunts and Uncles who loved those children when their mother was alive? Where were the neighbors who knew he would be raising 9 children without his life partner? This man used the resources available to him by taking them to the hospital, a safe place. I find no fault with that. I do find fault with his support network that has let them all down. Lets hope some relatives stepped up to assist in the face of this obvious need. Lets all be thankful that he didn’t hurt himself or the kids out of desperation. Lets use this as a wake up call that people need parenting skills, access to support for childcare and generally, love of self and neighbors to handle raising children. Its no easy job.

  13. Samantha Report

    I feel and hope that with this uprising in parents leaving their older children(not infant child(ren) as the law was intended for) will show that the need for information is greatly needed. The need for readily, handy, easy to access information on where to get specific help on problems within the household will be more available with this upsurge. Also, show the need for community programs that address the family in crisis needs.

  14. Debbie Report

    The public at large does not know this poor man’s circumstance; what lengths he went to to try to keep his family together. When the “system” fails us when we ask for help, a parent can be pushed to desparate measures. This man’s church and community should hang their heads in shame; in such a time of obvious crisis where were the good samaratans?

  15. NJ Report

    This not new,..men have been doing this after the loss of their wives for century’s. The only difference is, children where placed in orphanages or convents. Money was sent to help with their expenses until,..the man married again. Then he would collect his children.

  16. Catherine Leonard Report

    Imagine yourself in the same situation. Alone, grieving for a spouse, 9 children, may be poor health, no money and no help.
    It is sad, but isn’t there a failure in our society that somebody does not have the needed help in time of crises?
    It is devastating for anyone to be abandonned. But at least the kids have a place to stay, are not abused or in the street. How do we know that the man had any other solution? I feel sorry for his pain and the pain of all the children in our world.

  17. Ernest W Report

    I really can’t comment on this person and his actions. We are all individuals, we all have our minor and major differences from one another, there is never a cookie cutter answer to individual problems – which seems to be our natural inclination as humans. Go figure. Regardless, as a father I personally would never, ever give my kids away for any reason to anyone.
    I might leave them with family while I got myself in a position to provide for them, but I the only thing that would seperate me from my kids is death – well until the turn 18. If they were a major problem to the rest of the family, I would have them move out, but they would know that I still love them and was behind them 100%.

  18. Mary Report

    This is not a black and white scenario. This had to have been a very tough decision for him, and if it wasnt a tough decision, then those kids were not in a healthy environment. Luckily it is rare that we hear of parents killing or drowning thier older children when the parents become overwhelmed, but it does happen. We do know that high stress leads to a higher incidence of abuse though. So while its sad that this man felt this was his only way to insure his kids were taken care of, its better than what many parents resort to to avoid the kind of judgement and embarrassment that this man is now facing. In some ways he should be applauded for a what was most likely a hard and brave decision. And then wouldnt it be great if instead of being villified, local agencies worked with him and his family to get them back on thier feet and back together.

  19. Victoria Report

    This is a sad story— Atleast he had the courage to own up to the fact that maybe he just couldn’t handle the task ahead of him. But some counseling and coaching might have helped them out. There is that saying though that god doesn’t give us more than we can handle. We have referred to that saying many times over the past 1 1/2 years of raising our now 16 year old daughter. We have 2 younger sons also. It has been very hard—but finally we have come out on top. We have figured out that taking away things she loved—really did bring results, eventually. It didn’t happen right away but has finally come full circle. If inappropriate actions happen or words come out of her mouth she is just reminded that that isn’t appropriate and she knows that, and then is made to make ammends for her wrong doing. A teens cell phone is a HUGE tool for parents. She hasn’t as of yet been allowed to get her drivers license as she first had to rebuild trust she had broken with us and also had to show us some maturity and responsibility. She turned 16 —5 months ago and we are now giving her the go ahead to try for her license. We had warned her her whole 15th year of life that with the way she was acting –there would be no way we could allow her behind the wheel of a car—so there would be no license. Her b-day came and went and we stuck to our guns. Was she sad? Yes she sure was. However she also learned that we weren’t joking around. Parents need to hold their kids accountable for there actions and disrespect. Once kids learn you mean business? they are more likely to comply. Also your kids need to KNOW you love them. We have hugged and kissed, and told our kids we love them at night before bed, everynight of their lives unless they were away from home. That is KEY in a relationship between kids and their parents. Show your kids you love them!!!!

  20. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Teri, I definitely agree with you. It’s not this man in particular I’m railing against; I guess I’m just concerned that this Safe Haven law in Nebraska will encourage other parents– who possibly could take care of their children with some parental coaching or outside help — to drop off their acting-out kids at a hospital instead. I also read that these 9 kids were divided up and put into foster care, where I suppose most of these children will end up. (Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful, caring foster parents out there — but in talking to friends who were raised in foster homes themselves, it seems to be a hit-or-miss situation.)

  21. THERESA Report

    I personally believe that this man could not handle those 9 kids anymore,i am experiencing a lot of abuse from my teens and i make it daily through prayers and my faith in Jesus christ that these kids will turn around.

  22. Dr. Maria Report

    Wow, that is so sad! How devastating for those
    children! Abandonment by a parent leaves lasting and
    often permanent emotional scars on children. There are some positives here though, which I would like to focus on for a moment. The father left the children in a safe place. He didn’t harm them, didn’t abuse them, didn’t hurt them physically, at least that we are aware of. Perhaps he couldn’t feed them or provide for their physical needs. It takes a couragous person to take a hard look at themseves and do a very difficult thing, hopefully, for the best interests of their children. I have other questions though. A mother was not mentioned. Is there one involved, what was her input, can she get custody, was he protecting them from her? I would be interested in learning more of the details of this story, and will their be similar stories with the uncertain economy looming in the future?

  23. Teri Report

    I think before we pass judgement on this man we should all try and put ourselves in his shoes. Desperate after the death of his wife, losing his job and possibly his home. We cannot know what we would do faced with parenting nine children alone and without a job. We have no idea what thought process he went through to make this very difficult decision.

  24. Christine, Massachusetts Report

    How sad this story is. Children are not disposable items to get rid of when the going gets tough. Believe me, there are many times at heated moments that I would like to run myself but at the end of the day, your children are yours forever and you love and guide them the best you can. — like or not, not like it or leave it.



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