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Nebraska safe haven law opens old wounds

Posted Nov 09 2008 10:51pm

On Nov. 7, Nebraska’s Division of Children and Family Services announced that an 11-year-old girl was left at Bergan Mercy Hospital in Omaha through LB 157, Nebraska's "safe haven" law. 

It was the twenty-first time a parent had used the law since it went into effect in July.As of last week 23 children had been left at Nebraska hospitals, including nine from one family. Parents have come from other states, including Iowa, Michigan and Georgia, to leave their children. Many of the drop-offs are teenagers. None are babies and just one is under age six.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman will call the legislature into special session Nov. 14 to “correct” the safe haven law, the governor said in a press statement. “A proposed three day safe haven law that the legislature has agreed to will be introduced by Speaker [Mike] Flood on my behalf.   This law needs to be changed to focus on its original intent, which is to protect infants.”  

It’s expected that Nebraska’s legislature will quickly revise the law by limiting it to covering newborns up to three days old. The public, fanned by media reports of deadbeat parents taking advantage of the law to rid themselves of difficult teens, has been in an uproar ever since the first adolescent child was dropped off. 

But the question remains. If the intent of the law was to protect infants, why wasn’t it written that way? Nebraska was the last state to enact a safe haven law and its provisions extending safe haven to children from birth to age 18 was a major departure from other states. Why did Nebraska create its own model? 

At least one citizen sees a nefarious reason behind the broader wording of the Nebraska law.  

Judi Wheeldon, a Council Bluffs, Iowa parent and activist has protested the safe haven law, but not for the reasons you have read about. 

Her passion for protesting the law on street corners, on MySpace, through outreach to reporters, and even on eBay, stems from her discovery of a 20-year-old pedophile scandal linked to top government officials that has never been fully resolved. Despite a county grand jury ruling that the ring was a hoax, one of its victims was awarded $1 million. The scandal rears its ugly head every couple of years, becoming more detailed and alarming in its details and web of connections, before fading back into the shadows. 

In September Wheeldon stumbled upon the book,The Franklin Coverup: Child Abuse, Satanism, and Murder in Nebraska, byJohn DeCamp (originally published in 1996 with a second edition published in 2006) which details a massive pedophile ring based in Omaha. DeCamp is a former Republican Nebraska state senator and an attorney in the investigations and court cases of the above mentioned title. 

Wheeldon was disturbed to realize she knew some of the victims whose stories are recounted in the book. 

Wheeldon said she fears that children abandoned in Nebraska under the law could be intended targets of the pedophile ring which she and others believe may still exist 20 years after the state closed the book on the investigation. “I protested this law to protect the parents who have come to their wits end with their out of control children because I knew that if those parents realized what they were doing by putting their children in Nebraska's foster care system, that it was possible for those innocent children to become victim of a crime that not one politician or individual has been convicted of,” said Wheeldon.  

According to Nebraska's Department of Health and Human Services, about 16 of the dropped off children are in state custody and receiving treatment in foster care and other residential settings.

When Nebraska revises its law on Nov. 14, it could also hasten the scandal back into the shadows.

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