Case ‘Exposed a Shocking Lack of Oversight’ by SCDSS
(Abbeville, S.C.) — The South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) and the Boys Home of the South, Inc. have settled, for an undisclosed sum, a lawsuit alleging that an 11-year-old boy was sexually abused at the facility in Belton, S.C.–then denied immediate psychological treatment for months after the assault. The suit was brought by South Carolina law firms Hite & Stone in Abbeville, S.C.; The Camden Law Firm in Camden, S.C.; and national advocacy organization Children’s Rights in New York.
As stated in settlement documents filed with the federal court in Anderson, S.C., the Boys Home has ceased operations and has filed for dissolution.
“I’ve been practicing law in this state for over 30 years and I’ve never seen a case this disturbing. A little boy was victimized by the very system that was supposed to protect him,” said Thomas E. Hite, Jr. of Hite & Stone. “The state should take this case to heart to ensure that other facilities for foster youth do not allow such distressing incidents to occur.”
When Doe entered state care in 2011, SCDSS put 10-year-old Doe in an emergency shelter and then at the Boys Home without fully considering his placement needs. According to federal data, South Carolina was ranked 50th among all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico at that time for the percentage of children age 12 and under housed in group homes and institutions. While the number of children in South Carolina’s care has steadily declined since 2011, the most recent data from 2012 shows the state has the worst ranking in the nation when it comes to warehousing young kids in foster care.
Court filings described how Doe was attacked and sexually abused on March 28, 2011 by “AR,” an older boy also housed in the same low-supervision cottage. SCDSS and Boys Home staff knew of numerous prior incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior at the Boys Home, including incidents involving AR. Yet just weeks before the attack, Doe’s SCDSS caseworker wrote “there are no safety issues or concerns noted in the cottage.”
“This case exposed a shocking lack of safety oversight in South Carolina’s child welfare system,” said Ira Lustbader, associate 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.”
Evidence collected during the lawsuit included emails from the Boys Home treatment coordinator to Doe and AR’sSCDSS caseworker that detail at least three sexual encounters that AR had with other residents before Doe was assaulted, including anal and oral sex. In one of these emails, just a few months before the assault on Doe, the treatment coordinator explains to SCDSS: “[AR] is entering puberty and I feel we have a huge issue on our hands.”
SCDSS’s initial investigation into the attack and sexual assault on Doe, completed in May 2011, found no negligent supervision because the state concluded that the Boys Home was not required to have awake staff at the time of the incident. A second investigation, completed that July, reversed course and found negligent supervision on the part of the Boys Home “house parent” on duty, but made no findings against the facility.
“While the settlement cannot erase this boy’s considerable trauma, it provides a critical opportunity for him to heal–not only through treatment, but the knowledge that no other child will have to suffer harm at this institution,”said Robert Butcher of The Camden Law Firm.
The case was originally filed on April 1, 2013, in South Carolina State Court in Abbeville County, then was amended on May 30, 2013 to include both state law claims for negligence and gross negligence, as well as federal civil rights claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. The state then removed to federal court.