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State told to pay $8M for placing 2 girls in foster home with child molester

by Lewis Kamb, The Seattle Times

A Whatcom County jury on Wednesday determined the state Department of Social and Health Services should pay two girls $8 million for placing them in a foster home with a known child molester who sexually abused them for years.

The jury award represents “validation and vindication” for the girls, their attorney said Thursday.

“It took a lot of courage for my clients to do what they did,” said Seattle lawyer Raymond Dearie. “Frankly, the state of Washington put these girls on trial in this case. They were implying, if not outright alleging, the girls were making some of this up. Now, the jury has spoken.”

A spokeswoman for DSHS said Thursday the agency hasn’t decided whether it will appeal the verdict. The state has 30 days to do so.

“We hope this helps the girls receive the therapy, education and other services they might need in the future,” spokeswoman Norah West said of the verdict in a statement. “DSHS’ Children’s Administration continually improves policies and practices to keep children safe.”

The girls are sisters who were 3 and 6 when DSHS placed them in a home in Lynden with a married couple and their three sons in 2003. At the time, the agency’s records show it knew the middle son had molested a 5-year-old male cousin on two occasions in 2001, Dearie said.

During a deposition of the DSHS social worker, she admitted she “missed this information” during an adoption-screening process for the girls, Dearie said.

The family later was allowed to adopt the girls, and for years, two of the brothers repeatedly sexually abused them, Dearie said. The abuse finally came to light in 2013 after the oldest girl, then in high school, ran away from the home and told a friend, Dearie said.

“This was an unimaginable misstep by the agency whose sole purpose is to safeguard children,” Dearie said. “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.”

In November, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig ruled DSHS was liable for the girls’ abuse in the home. The ensuing jury trial was limited to determining how much the state owed the girls for damages.

The youngest brother involved in the abuse pleaded guilty to three counts of felony child molestation and was sentenced to serve 5½ years in prison. The other brother has been charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse. He is in the Whatcom County jail awaiting trial, Dearie said.

The girls, now 15 and 19, are living with a friend’s family, Dearie said.

During the trial, the older girl testified she came forward with the lawsuit so that “other kids wouldn’t have to go through the same thing” the girls went through, Dearie said.

Published in The Seattle Times, February 11, 2016

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