Justice For Foster Care Abuse

A former foster care youth writes – I thinking about taking legal action against the state of Nevada for putting me and my 3 siblings through 8+ years of abusive foster homes? My brother repeatedly told our case workers about abuse over and over and they said no one wanted us, so we would have to “suck it up”. I want justice. We were abused, severely in some cases and the worst that happened was a slap on the wrist and MAYBE a foster license taken away. Why no jail time? I would think that most of what happened must be written in our case files somewhere. I know it’s a long shot and probably “way too dramatic” but I’m angry and so are my siblings, our lives were completely turned upside down and we will carry unnecessary trauma with us our entire lives. There has to be something we can do??

Turns out this isn’t as rare as you might think. Oh I knew many are abused. I read a book last April titled Foster Girl, a memoir by Georgette Todd in which she shares her own experiences of being in foster care.

So in the responses to the plea above came stories about other cases and some not-legal advice from a lawyer.

Just last December 2020 in the state of Texas, Corpus Christi-based federal District Judge Janis Graham Jack found the state of Texas in contempt of court for continuing to fail to comply with court orders put in place to protect children in state custody from abuse. The ruling was the latest in a nearly 10-year-old class action lawsuit over allegations of abuse, neglect and systemic failures in Texas’ child welfare system. 

The not-legal advice – I’m a lawyer but don’t know anything about this area of law (which is complex bc govt officials may have some degree of immunity from prosecution, I don’t know). I would begin by (1) googling to see if and how others have brought these suits, (2) law firms in your area who have successfully sued the state for damages, and (3) legal aid providers or maybe the ACLU to see if they can refer you to any lawyers who might be willing to take it on contingency. I’d also move quickly – some kinds of suits can only be brought for a certain number of years (but again, I know nothing about this area of law so please do not take this as legal advice!).

Another woman chimed in – I would look up recent cases brought up against the state/Dept of Human Services… Look up the law firms used… Call them or submit an online inquiry. In Oregon, you have 6 months from a qualifying event to file tort (notice that you intend to file a lawsuit) … But a qualifying event could be as minor as “remembering” a new thing. Usually these types of suits are a contingency, so you don’t pay the law firm unless there is money awarded (except if you lose you usually have pay actual costs of things like filing fees and paper copies, etc), if you win/settle the law firm takes a pre-agreed upon percentage. Law firms don’t usually take on these cases unless they are pretty sure they can win…*good luck* I hope you can hold them accountable!!!

Here is another case moving through the courts in Alabama during 2020. Alabama officials failed to protect multiple children who were abused and neglected for years while in foster care. Foster children who lived with Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon (both have been arrested and are serving time) were sexually, physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally abused, according to the four lawsuits. While the children were starved, isolated, tortured and assaulted, the lawsuits allege, the Alabama Department of Human Resources ignored signs of abuse and neglect. The lawsuits say “numerous” complaints about abuse and neglect were made to DHR by the children and others. The complaints included violations of DHR’s standards for foster homes and ban on corporal punishment, plus reports that the children weren’t properly bathed or were forced to bathe with other children.

There is an organization that does a lot of this kind of justice work. It is called A Better Childhood. They cover the states of West Virginia, Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey and Washington DC. A Better Childhood fights for children who are abused, neglected, and irreversibly damaged while dependent on child welfare systems. Their work challenges existing structures to improve the lives of children, whether they are in state custody or reliant on the state for protection. Using the power of the courts, they develop new legal theories and apply and expand existing law to reform the various states’ foster care and other child welfare systems. Then, we monitor the states’ responses to hold them accountable.

Instances of abuse for children in foster care is estimated to be as high as one out of every three children. For some more startling statistics, you can read – Abuse in Foster Care Is a Social Justice Fail.

The ENTIRE justification for the state taking children from their families is to protect the child from abuse. If the child then is put into another abusive situation or worse yet, a series of abusive situations, then the entire premise of the state’s effort to protect children has failed. The agency has failed in it’s jo, and their justification for taking children from their families is a nightmare.

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