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.

Foster Care Abuses

While some foster care abuses are extreme, some are more minor but still critical, like using the stipend for reasons other than directly related to the child. A book I read, Foster Girl (and reviewed in this blog) had some stories like that. The girls went through several foster homes over the years until they ended up in a wonderful one with a caring, mature single woman.

In the movie Just Mercy, the convicted white felon, Ralph Myers, who’s false testimony has put a Black man’s life in jeopardy of the death penalty, admits to the attorney that he grew up in foster care. While in a foster care, he was placed to sleep in the basement where the furnace blew up and his pajamas caught on fire for a frightening few minutes leaving him scarred for life. In attempting to coerce the false testimony that he had been unwilling to agree to at first, he was placed on death row where he was subjected to the smell of burning flesh that triggered for him a reaction that left him in a fetal position in his cell and willing to do whatever the authorities wanted of him. The damage of spending his childhood in foster care derailed the remainder of his life.

The inspiration for today’s blog came when I read about the untimely death of Victoria Spry as she was only 35 years old when she died. She is known for the horrendous stories of her sadistic foster mother. This is admittedly an extreme example of abuses suffered while in foster care.

She was abused by Eunice Spry for almost 20 years. In 2007, a court heard how her foster mother beat her and two other children with sticks and metal bars, scrubbed their skin with sandpaper, and forced them to eat lard, bleach, vomit and even their own feces. Eunice Spry was a Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was punishing the children because she thought they were possessed by the devil. Once she even kept two of them imprisoned, naked and starving, in a room for a month.

How was it that welfare officials failed to pick up on the abuse ?

Spry was convicted of 26 charges including unlawful wounding, cruelty to a person under 16, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, perverting the course of justice, and witness intimidation. Justice appeared to arrive for Eunice who was 62 years old when she was imprisoned for 14 years. However, her sentence was reduced to 12 years on appeal. She was freed in 2014.

Victoria wrote a book titled Tortured and then spent her short life working to improve the system that had failed her. Apparently not allowing anger to be her focus but helping other children involved with the foster care system.

As a society, when will we learn that supporting struggling families at risk is preferable to removing them from the families they were born into and placing them with strangers in foster care ?

Humanity’s Messed Up Attitudes

It often boggles my mind – how messed up humanity is when it comes to sex.  It is a global sickness.  When sex is part of a truly loving relationship, it is simply a human reality and need for connection.  That is not what it always is.  Case in point – catholic priests.  Perverse sexuality was also a part of the story in the book Foster Girl by Georgette Todd that I recently reviewed here.

Now to my awareness today comes yet another case and this one involves child pornography, sex with children and foster care all in one.  My heart almost cannot bear up under this but the story is all too real and I fear way more common than it should be.  The news came out related to two arrests.

One was a young soldier and one was an older man who was a former foster parent.  According to statements by the young soldier, he would meet with the older man for consensual sex.  The solider revealed under interrogation that the two discussed engaging in sexual activity with children.  He then claimed that the older man once sent a very young child into the bathroom where the solider was for the purpose of allowing the soldier to have sexual contact with the child.

The arrests came when Homeland Security Investigations found a user of a smartphone communication application posting sexually explicit material featuring children.  Use of cellphone applications and other Internet-based technology by criminals to exchange child pornography is not uncommon.  The older man was a certified foster parent in Arizona from 2002 until January 2015 when his license was suspended.  The reason is protected by confidentiality laws.

It is just too much – all of these details – for my own heart to bear.

 

Foster Girl

Foster care is a cause that affects you whether you realize it or not. Your tax dollars fund the care of these throwaway children in your community, and you pay for their outcomes as adults who experience homelessness, incarceration and another generational cycle of welfare.  The majority of outcomes are tragic for kinless, abused, or neglected teens that age out of the system and transition into the real world inadequately prepared.

Georgette Todd has written a book that chronicles her difficult childhood that included sexual abuse and drug use.  It could not have been easy to dig deep into all of her experiences.  Due to her effort to educate herself and make it into college, she has learned to write well.  After earning BA and MA degrees, she worked at an adoption agency.  She eventually ended up providing the youth perspective for the Alameda County Child Welfare Dept in a program called the Youth Advocacy Program. She was in charge of presenting the emancipated foster youth perspective and recommendations about department policies and practices.

Todd outlines the basic premises of the foster care system approach.  The US foster care system is far from perfect. There needs to be a systematic way to save children from abusive and neglectful homes.  The purpose of the system is to place an abused or neglected child with a safe, loving relative that lives in the child’s original community.  If proximity is not available, then the foster child will live wherever the biological relative resides. Until then, children are placed into receiving homes, emergency foster homes, or whatever facility is available.  If the social worker cannot find a biological relative to care for the child, then efforts to secure a more permanent placement take priority. Permanence can mean adoption or long-term foster care in a group home or house setting.

These are the key goals of foster care but these plans don’t always pan out. Bureaucracies don’t always work.  Unfortunately, many foster children end up in understaffed group homes and inadequate facilities. They also go into crowded juvenile halls or wind up going out on the street hustling for survival.

I selected Todd’s book because I belong to a private Facebook group called Adoption: Facing Realities.  The members are adoptees, former foster youth, expectant mothers, original parents who permanently lost custody of their child and adoptive (including those who hope to) parents.  Some find the perspectives in this group difficult.  The mission of this group is to help expectant mothers believe in their ability to raise their own children, and not to chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Though adoption figures prominently in my reason for joining this Facebook group, I’ve become more aware of foster care because of this group.  And I realized I really had no real life background experience with which to understand foster care.  Though Georgette Todd’s book is only one experience among thousands, I did gain the perspective on the system by reading her full childhood experience of it that I was seeking.  The book may not be a good choice for victims of sexual abuse and former foster youth may not need to read it for the reasons I have.  If a former foster youth wishes to compare experiences, then that may be a reason.

Some related links –

Georgette has a website – www.georgettetodd.com.  She was a participant in a 30 minute documentary about the foster care experience which you can watch on youtube here – https://youtu.be/hS5JVSTf4LA.

I am not inclined to do Facebook birthday fundraisers but for this year only, I am doing one to support the work of Connect Our Kids, which I learned about at the end of Georgette Todd’s book.  They are applying technology to help social workers located extended family for displaced children that may be able to care for them.  Kinship is often, but not always, a better option for many children.  Modern families are far flung and often lose track of one another.  I set a modest fundraising goal of $200 and donated the first $25 myself.  Here’s the link, if you would like to help the cause – https://www.facebook.com/donate/310497696609444/