OLYMPIA - After extensive negotiations, a settlement was reached today in the amount of $11 million to resolve both the alleged negligence and civil rights claims of six plaintiffs against the Department of Social and Health Services and 21 individually named social workers.
This lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court (Western-Tacoma Division). The case was scheduled for trial on February 19, 2013. By settling prior to trial, the plaintiffs and the Department avoid the expense of a costly and complex trial and further stress for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs allege that while they resided in the foster home of Jose and Juanita Miranda (both now deceased), they were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by the foster parents. The plaintiffs allege that DSHS was negligent in the licensing of the Miranda foster home and in investigating multiple complaints from May, 1998 until February, 2005. In addition, two of the six plaintiffs allege that their civil rights were violated by the defendants.
“We regret that these children suffered at the hands of adults they had trusted to love and keep them safe,” said DSHS Children’s Administration Assistant Secretary Denise Revels Robinson.
"Although nothing can change what happened in the home, DSHS believes that the agreement fairly compensates these individuals, who can use the proceeds to meet any special needs they may have in the future," said DSHS spokeswoman Chris Case.
Using lessons learned from this and previous cases of child abuse and neglect, DSHS has made many changes to help further strengthen the focus on child safety, including:
· Instead of taking a child’s word that they are not being abused or neglected, investigators also focus on gathering additional information from other sources.
· A comprehensive investigative assessment assists social workers in documenting all case activities and assists supervisors in their review and approval of investigative work.
· A standardized, automated decision process creates more consistency to ensure that allegations of child abuse and neglect are appropriately screened in and investigated statewide.
· The focus on assessing child safety continues as long as the Department is involved with the family.
· The Children’s Administration now responds to critical incidents by immediately communicating with the team of people working with the family to learn what happened, what services have been provided and determine next steps to ensure child safety.
· The Department of Licensed Resources and Department of Children and Family Services work closely together to ensure that child safety is the primary focus of both divisions. Collaboration between the two divisions occurs at Child Protective Team staffings, Family Team Decision Making meetings, permanent placement planning meetings and adoption planning reviews
· The process for placing children is now more formal. The Family Team Decision Making process includes social workers from different programs, the children’s families and service providers.
· The home study process is a more detailed evaluation of a prospective foster family and includes several meetings with the family, endorsements by extended family members, references and collateral contacts.
"We can't emphasize enough the importance of family, neighbors and schools in keeping children safe from abuse and neglect. Public child welfare is a shared responsibility," Case said. "You can report abuse or neglect of a child or vulnerable adult at 1-866 ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276) or, in an emergency situation, call 9-1-1."