Before a Nebraska couple took in a 6-year-old foster boy 10 years ago, his caseworker was asked if the boy had any history of sexual abuse.

He did, but the caseworker lied, failing to tell them about his serious medical and mental health issues, despite a state law that requires it.

After the boy sexually assaulted another child in their home, they sued. But the case was thrown out.

Despite the legal requirement to disclose, the state was immune from being sued in this case because of an exception for claims based on misrepresentation and deceit by state employees, the court said.

In an opinion last year, Nebraska Supreme Court Justice William Cassel added a caveat: that lawmakers may wish to consider whether those exceptions still should be protected.

"From the perspective of the parents, immunity 'adds insult to injury,'" he wrote.

In a hearing room in the Capitol on Thursday, Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha spoke in favor of a bill (LB729) he introduced to strip that exception when a Department of Health and Human Services employee has withheld a history of sexual abuse.

"I don’t think that’s right," the senator said. "I don’t think this body should allow the state to lie and get away with it without some kind of action."

Wayne said it's not OK for the state to lie and if it does, it should be called out and should have to pay for it.

It's lawmakers' duty to correct it, he said.

"When is it OK, ever, when dealing with kids ... to lie about anything?" Wayne asked.

The woman who, along with her husband, sued the state, testified in support of Wayne's bill, saying 15 years ago the state passed a law requiring state officials to disclose all available information on a child being placed.

"Not some of it. All of it," she said. "That was a good law. It was right. It was just."

But there are no repercussions for state employees who fail to follow the law, she said, while the repercussions to her family have been immeasurable.

A caseworker told the woman and her husband the boy they were adopting might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, knowing he had been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a serious mental illness.

While the woman spoke at a public hearing, giving her name, she asked the Journal Star not to name her because of fears she has about her now 15-year-old son finding out.

The woman, who no longer lives in Nebraska, said he is in residential care, unable to live with them for four years.

"Because DHHS misrepresented and deceived our family and because Nebraska law allowed them to do so without consequences, we all lost our best chances," she said.

"It's an injustice that has to stop," she said.

She said she flew to Nebraska to testify on the bill to prevent this from happening to other children and families.

Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, asked Wayne if he thinks the state should only be held accountable for lying when it has to do with kids.

That's a broader discussion that he would love to have, Wayne said.

"I think there's some core principles that we all have," he said. "I think one of them is we don’t think government should ever be deceitful and misrepresent facts. Whatever they are."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.




Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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