WA State Supreme Court: State is Liable for Safety of Foster Kids
In a 5-4 decision, the Washington State Supreme court ruled that the state is liable for safety and welfare of the more than 10,000 foster children in the state’s foster system. Specifically, the majority opinion says that the state Department of Social and Health Services – now the Department of Children, Youth and Families “owes a duty of reasonable care to protect foster children from abuse at the hands of their foster parents…the foster children produced sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that DSHS breached its protective duty, and that the breach of that duty caused their injuries.” In the dissenting opinion, Justice Barbara Madsen disagreed that “a special relationship exists between foster children and DSHS and that, therefore, the state shouldn’t be held responsible for child abuse that occurs after custody is transferred to the foster parent.”
Washington State Supreme Court Rules State is Liable for Safety of Foster Kids
The decision upholds a ruling by the Court of Appeals in favor of five children who sued DSHS for failing to investigate and stop abuse committed against them by their foster parents, and sends the case back to trial. The case has resulted in the expansion of the state’s responsibility for the welfare of the children beyond the end of its physical custody. DSHS has faced rising criticism for the way it has handled foster care children. The department does not have enough caseworkers and as a result may not be able to adequately monitor the care children are receiving and respond to reports of abuse. The department has seen a consistent rise in emergency calls. In the biggest settlement reached in a case involving one person in Washington state’s history, DSHS has agreed to pay $19.3 million to a girl who was left blind, brain-damaged and quadriplegic after being abused by a man, who said he was her father, that the department placed her with in Texas. Other plaintiffs included two of the five girls that DSHS had placed with Eatonville couple Scott and Drew Ann Hamrick between 1998 and 2000. Over the five-year period between the first of the five kids being placed in the home and subsequent adoptions, the Hamrick’s physically, sexually and psychologically abused all five children. Evidence presented at a later trial showed that a social worker who was assigned to two of the girls’ cases in 1999 failed to conduct health and safety visits, even though they were required to do so. The suit alleged that the department failed to investigate or take any protective action during the period before they were adopted.
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