Foster Care Abuse
No child should have to suffer abuse or neglect in a foster home.
The number of children transiting through our state’s foster care system is heartbreaking: in 2017, approximately 8,800 children in Washington lived apart from their families in out-of-home care, with 6% of the total in non-family settings (e.g. a group home)1.
Here’s another, equally troubling statistic: The average caseload of a typical Washington state foster care case worker is 25 (or more) children2. Coupled with an employee turnover rate that can average around a year or less, the ability of overburdened and under-trained case workers to correctly identify and mitigate foster child abuse when it occurs is very much in question.
Washington DSHS and CPS have a legal duty and a moral obligation to make every effort to ensure that foster children are safely placed and cared for. And when they fall short of that goal, they need to be held accountable. There are several ways in which the state can fail these children:
Failure to thoroughly investigate claims of abuse or neglect
When a child or a caseworker makes a claim of abuse, it must be given the highest priority, because in this type of situation, literally every second counts. In conjunction with law enforcement investigations, Washington State Child Protective Services (CPS) is the primary state agency tasked with investigating claims of abuse. Should a CPS employee or law enforcement official establish proof of abuse, they have a duty to immediately remove that child or children from the dangerous situation and move them to a safe location immediately. Failure to thoroughly perform abuse investigations or delaying the removal process once proof is established means the state of Washington may be legally liable for any new abuse that occurs.
A lack of proper monitoring and oversight
Placing a child in a foster home is in some respects a leap of faith: the state makes a decision, based on as much evidence as they care to evaluate, that the home and the foster parents are able to meet the basic needs of the child. But their responsibility does not end there. They must perform regular site visits that include child interviews, where they should be able to definitively identify any signs that abuse is occurring. But due to the heavy caseload each worker has, this follow up may be sporadic or not at all. And when site visits do occur, they are often far less thorough than they need to be. It is this type of lax oversight that enables abuse to take root and flourish. Failure to perform adequate oversight is inexcusable and those workers and agencies tasked with performing this duty may in fact be legally liable.
Allowing unqualified applicants to become foster parents
State payments for hosting a foster child can range anywhere from $562 to $1,500 per month3, depending on factors such as the age and needs of the child. This is a powerful incentive for those merely seeking an easy paycheck, ones who lack true interest in a child’s welfare. These ‘foster mills’ not only fail to provide adequate love, attention and support that a child requires, the applicants themselves may have background issues that should have disqualified them in the first place, including substance abuse problems, criminal records or mental illness. If a Washington state agency does not conduct proper diligence when screening these foster families and allows a situation where abuse does occur, the state may be held liable for any injuries done to the child.
Foster children deserve every ounce of love and care we can possibly provide, and we as a society cannot tolerate even a single instance of failure to protect some of the most vulnerable among us. If you or a loved one has been the victim of foster home abuse or neglect, contact our law offices. We have a history with cases like these and a track record of delivering justice for our clients.