by Lynsi Burton, The Seattle P.I.
A jury awarded two teenage girls $8 million Wednesday, settling a lawsuit they filed in Whatcom County against the state Department of Social and Health Services after suffering years of sexual abuse in their foster home.
The lawsuit alleged DSHS knew one of the children in the foster family had sexually assaulted a 5-year-old cousin two years before they placed the girls with that family.
The girls’ mother agreed to relinquish her parental rights in 2003 in order to maintain a legal relationship with her daughters, according to the complaint, which was filed in December 2014. The girls were ages 3 and 6 at the time.
Whatcom County residents Carolyn and Benjamin Lange adopted the girls as foster children that year. They had two sons, one of whom was accused of having attacked a young cousin in 2001.
The lawsuit says both girls were “sexually, emotionally and physically” abused for “many years” and were sexually assaulted by both sons in the family.
Attorney Raymond J. Dearie wrote in the complaint that DHSH was negligent in its placement of the girls in the Lange household and failed to follow up on the Langes’ performance as adoptive parents.
In September 2014, the younger son in the family, now 23, pleaded guilty to three counts of felony child molestation and was sentenced to 66 months in prison. The older son, now 26, has been charged with felony sexual abuse and dodged law enforcement for more than two years. He now awaits trial in Whatcom County Jail.
The civil trial began Jan. 12. A Whatcom County jury decided on Wednesday to award each girl — now 19 and 15 years old — $4 million.
“This was an unimaginable misstep by the agency whose sole purpose is to safeguard children,” Dearie said in a statement. “Because of the agency’s gaping oversight, two innocent little girls were led into a horrible environment of depravity and violence, and their lives will never be the same.”
DSHS issued the following statement:
“We thank the jury for their work in this trial, which resulted in an $8M verdict for the plaintiffs. We hope this helps the girls receive the therapy, education and other services they might need in the future. DSHS’ Children’s Administration continually improves policies and practices to keep children safe.”