When John Doe’s grandparents became too elderly to raise him, he found himself in the care of South Carolina’s Department of Social Services (SCDSS). The agency was charged with finding him a safe, loving home.
Instead they pulled the rug out from under him.
They placed the 11-year-old boy in the Boy’s Home of the South (BHOTS). While the group home is now virtually closed and said to be in the midst of a massive reorganization, at the time it was known to be a hotbed for child-on-child assault. The staff was aware of it, and SCDSS had been notified more than once.
Those are the allegations in Children’s Rights’ latest lawsuit, filed in late spring with co-counsel Hite & Stone and the Camden Law Firm. The complaint describes unacceptably lax policies, combined with officials turning a blind eye to child-on-child violence at an institution licensed and supervised by SCDSS–all of which paved the way for the Abbeville County boy to be attacked and sexually assaulted at the facility in March 2011.
According to the amended complaint, officials at SCDSS and BHOTS not only knew that Doe was at risk, they failed to care for him after the assault. Doe didn’t receive desperately needed mental health treatment for months, even though he attempted to slit his wrist with a razor from a pencil sharpener a week after the attack. The filing names South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as a defendant, along with SCDSS Director Lillian Koller, as well as other SCDSS officials and staff at BHOTS.
South Carolina’s poor track record for recruiting enough foster homes could have played into Doe’s fate. According to federal data, in 2010 and 2011 South Carolina was ranked 50th among all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico for the percentage of children in foster care age 12 and under who were housed in group homes and institutions. SCDSS failed to find a relative to care for Doe and, because of a lack of family foster homes, placed him in an emergency shelter and then at BHOTS.
“It is unconscionable that this young boy landed in such a facility in the first place,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “While SCDSS acknowledged that most children fare better in home-like settings, the agency apparently has not prioritized the reduction of congregate care, putting kids in settings that are inappropriate for many and can leave youth vulnerable. Foster care is supposed to improve children’s lives, not destroy them.”
Since CR, Hite & Stone and the Camden Law Firm filed an amended complaint in Abbeville County Court, the case has been turned over to the U.S. District Court in South Carolina. A trial is expected in spring of 2014.
For more information about this case, please visit www.childrensrights.org/case/john-doe-v-scdss/
Read additional articles in Notes from the Field, the Children’s Rights Newsletter: