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Teenager left at Neb. hospital is 24th abandoned
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    Department of Health and Human Services:
    LINCOLN, Neb. — A 17-year-old boy left at an Omaha hospital is the 24th child to be abandoned under the state’s much-criticized safe-haven law, which lawmakers hope to change next month.
    The teenager was left at the Nebraska Medical Center Wednesday night by his grandmother, who is his legal guardian, Todd Landry, of the Division of Children and Family Services for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday.
    Landry said the boy is a state ward but has been living with family while undergoing therapy.
    Nebraska was the last state to enact a safe-haven law, a measure intended to prevent infanticide and the unsafe abandonment of newborns.
    Bust since the law took effect in July, none of the children dropped off at hospitals were newborns and three of them were from out of state. The reason: Nebraska’s law provides safe haven for any ‘‘child.’’ It doesn’t set an age limit.
    Some have taken the word ‘‘child’’ in the law to mean ‘‘minor,’’ which in Nebraska includes anyone under the age of 19. Others have adopted the common law definition, which includes those under age 14.
    State lawmakers plan to tackle the issue at a special session on Nov. 14. Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood said he’ll introduce a bill establishing a 3-day-old age limit.
    At least 15 states use a 3-day-old threshold, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance.
    Safe haven laws vary widely by state. Just across Nebraska’s line in Iowa, the age limit is 14 days. To the north in South Dakota, the limit is 60 days.
    ‘‘They’re making it all up as they go along,’’ said Adam Pertman, executive director of a New York adoption institute and a frequent critic of safe-haven laws. ‘‘Where’s the research that indicates that this is the right length of time?’’
    The absence of any national standard for an age limit was one reason why Nebraska lawmakers decided to use the generic term ‘‘child’’ in their law.
    ‘‘It does open a door to older children being left off,’’ state Sen. Gwen Howard said during January’s debate on the legislation. ‘‘I don’t see that being a problem.’’
    Howard said Wednesday she’d listen to arguments for and against changing the law before making a decision.
    ‘‘We want to protect all children,’’ she said. ‘‘We can’t walk away from the problem that’s out there.’’
    Tim Jaccard, president of the National Safe Haven Alliance, said he hopes to bring all 50 states to an agreement on a standard age limit and possibly lobby for federal legislation.
    However, Jaccard argues the intent of the law — preventing infanticide — is sound.
    He started the safe haven movement in 1998, after finding a baby drowned in a toilet bowl by his mother, and others in plastic bags, buried or in recycling bins.
    ‘‘The bottom line is, I don’t want to see another baby in a Dumpster ever again,’’ he said.

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