There were several reactions to the safe haven law abandonments. In some of the cases, as reported in the interview and radio feature on the law, parents and guardians were open to being contacted following the abandonment, realizing they were free from prosecution. One man who left his 15-year-old nephew reported, “I’m done beating my head against the wall” and the social worker said of the uncle who left his charge, “He’s been trying to get help for the kid, trying a lot of different avenues apparently, and none of them worked” (All Things Considered 2008). In the context of social workers and the children, however, the responses were often consistent. The social workers tried as hard as possible to immediately offer emotional and material provisions until more concrete arrangements could be made while the children were asking what was going to happen next. It seems that, without a precedent for this kind of legal abandonment, people resorted to the most predictable behavior possible; they were stunned. However, perhaps with greater preparedness, an increase in the number of cases of these abandonments on parents and guardians who are usually far more frustrated than financially or otherwise incapable of taking care of their children can lead to a more solid theoretical approach to the immediate needs of these children. Under the life span theory with its emphasis on challenges are crucial to personal development, children can be made to understand the truth that yes, this is an incredible and painful challenge, but as life goes on and strength is gathered from challenges, they will be able to put the event into a more balanced context and move on eventually.

Cognitive and moral development theories can also be particularly useful in understanding the complexity of forces at work in such as situation. With the emphasis on principles of intellectual development to face moral and other problems, under this theory, “meeting each new challenge requires formation of a more comprehensive and sophisticated way of thinking…beyond egocentrism to an intellectual, moral, and spiritual perspective that appreciates other people’s points of view” (Chapter 13) and can also integrate these other perspectives into one’s personal ideology and intellectual/moral approach to life. From a personal and social worker’s aspect, this theory is most beneficial in reconciling the abandonment of children, which is something difficult to do, even if it is legal. By trying to come to terms with the reasons behind the abandonment and seeing beyond one’s feelings of indignation and anger towards guardians who are unwilling to maintain their responsibilities as unconditional caregivers. More importantly, application of this theory when considering the needs of the abandoned children or teenagers places the emphasis on helping them understand what happened from an intellectual viewpoint, rather than simply emotional one. By discussing openly the reasons and other issues related to what happened to them in a way they can understand and internalize and then branching out to talk about the moral issues and how they can begin to understand the events rationally, progress might be made.

Through the theory of cognitive and moral development theories, the reaction of all parties involved might be best understood with emphasis on the moral side of the issue. Many of the immediate responders (the social workers and hospital staff) were surprised to see so many cases of abandonment, especially in terms of the ages of the children. If this theory were applied to these responders, it might be most beneficial for their reaction to be balanced with the rational and intellectual side of the problem and appreciate the views of the parents and caregivers who brought the children in. These were desperate parents, many of whom tried everything but were at their wits end. While it is easy for social workers to personally, and perhaps unconsciously, condemn these parents, taking a more intellectual approach to the moral implications would be useful. In the case, at least according to media reports, the case workers did a good job of taking care of the children’s needs immediately and although sometimes it was implicit in their commentary that they condemned the parents, especially those who drove long distances to drop off older teenagers, they remained professional.

Both of these theories work in conjunction to both predict and describe the ideal course of action in this case. Interestingly, it seems that the case workers who responded to these abandonments acted properly and tried best to take care of their immediate needs and hold off on attempting to help children rationalize until more information was made available. However, once the first few days of trauma have passed, using these two theories independently would produce the same result; children would be encouraged to seek strength from such challenges, despite the gravity of the challenge and moreover, to understand what occurred in a rational way; separating the moral issues into simpler components and developing as thinkers. This is a tough situation and despite application of theories, it is hard to get the sense that “everything will be okay” but for practical purposes, this drastic, worst case scenario of high numbers of abandonments can serve as a reliable model for less severe, but equally painful issues other social workers and children may have to deal with in more isolated circumstances.

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Associated Press, (2008, October 30). Teenager Left at Neb. Hospital Is 24th Abandoned. Retrieved October 30, 2008, from New York TImes Web site:

Block, Melissa(Correspondent). (2008, October 17). Nebraska safe haven law draws more than infants [Radio series episode]. In All Things Considered. Washington D.C.: National Public Radio.

Koch, Wendy (2008, September, 26). Nebraska ‘safe haven’ law for kids has unintended results. USA Today, Retrieved October 30, 2008, from