SC - John Doe v. SCDSS
John Doe entered foster care in 2010 after he was removed from the care of his grandparents, who were too elderly to care for him. After being placed in an emergency home, he was transferred to Boys Home of the South, a group home. In March of 2011, Doe, age 11, was attacked and sexually assaulted by an older boy who had a known history of inappropriate behavior and who was nonetheless placed in the same low-supervision cottage as Doe. Doe was denied prompt, desperately-needed mental health treatment after the attack.
Senior U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr., U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina
FILED: April 1, 2013
SETTLEMENT WITH NYC and ACS: April 2014
Children’s Rights and South Carolina firms Hite & Stone, Attorneys at Law and The Camden Law Firm, joined together to prosecute this damages lawsuit on behalf of John Doe. At age 11 Doe was sexually assaulted in a poorly supervised, dangerous group home called the Boys Home of the South (BHOTS), which was operated under contract with the South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS). Both SCDSS and BHOTS were sued as defendants, as well as specific SCDSS and BHOTS employees. The lawsuit asserted violations of Doe’s right to a safe and secure placement in state custody, and his right to adequate supervision and prompt mental health treatment, under both federal and state law.
The amended complaint alleged that SCDSS and BHOTS had notice and knowledge of dangerous child-on-child maltreatment and poor supervision at BHOTS, but ignored those dangers. Those incidents went back two years prior, several involving the same boy who attacked Doe. The amended complaint also alleged that SCDSS and BHOTS denied Doe immediate and urgently needed mental health treatment after the assault, even though Doe attempted to slit his wrist a week later. Even when SCDSS initially investigated the attack on Doe, it found no negligent supervision, concluding that BHOTS staff were not required to be awake at the time of the attack.
South Carolina has a history of failing to recruit enough foster homes, instead turning to institutions and group homes to house children in foster care, specifically young children like Doe. In 2011, when the attack on Doe occurred, South Carolina ranked 50th among all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for the percentage of children under age 12 in group homes and institutions. In 2012, the most recent year for which national data is available, South Carolina ranked worst, 52nd of 52, in using institutions and group homes for young children.
In 2014, SCDSS and BHOTS settled with Doe for a confidential sum, and the settlement papers filed with the court indicated that BHOTS would be shutting down permanently. Since the settlement, BHOTS has closed its operations and filed for dissolution. “This case exposed a shocking lack of safety oversight in South Carolina’s child welfare system,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director of Children’s Rights. “The Boys Home had a dangerous situation on its hands and SCDSS had notice of it and failed to intervene. A state doesn’t wash its hands of accountability simply by contracting with a private agency that runs a facility for kids in state custody.”