SC boys home settles lawsuit over abuse allegation
By MEG KINNARDAssociated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina boys home has settled a lawsuit by a former resident who said he was sexually assaulted by an older child, officials said Friday.
In an email, attorneys for the 11-year-old boy said they had settled a lawsuit against the Boys Home of the South and the Department of Social Services. Settlement documents filed in federal court earlier this year note that the home is also closing.
The 2013 lawsuit accused the 52-bed nonprofit in Belton - which relies on government referrals and private donations to care for boys in the foster system - of turning a blind eye to problems that they should have known would end up with children being harmed. The lawsuit also accused DSS of gross negligence and violating the victim's rights to adequate care and a safe placement.
The plaintiff, who was not named in the suit, said he was placed in the foster care system in May 2010 and ended up at a cottage at the boys home after social services officials failed to place him with a foster family. It was in that cottage the night of March 28, 2011, that an older boy - who, according to the lawsuit, had been sexually inappropriate with other boys in the past - assaulted the plaintiff in the back of the building.
An adult was also in the cottage but was asleep at the time, according to the lawsuit, something allowed under the home's policies.
The younger boy was ultimately moved to another cottage and left the boys home altogether a few months later. Officials did two internal investigations, according to the lawsuit, initially finding no staffers at fault but later determining that the cottage supervisor hadn't adequately monitored the children.
After the alleged abuse, the boy got inadequate counseling and slit his wrists with a razor blade, requiring hospitalization, according to the lawsuit.
But the suit says the problems predate the alleged 2011 abuse. Two years earlier, the lawsuit says, DSS officials were aware that they didn't have enough foster families in which to place children, thereby putting them instead in institution-style settings, such as the boys home, which were subsequently mismanaged and inadequately supervised.
In a 2010 annual progress report, the lawsuit noted, DSS "stated that the agency was not adequately monitoring the medical needs of children in its custody and that, as a result, children did not receive appropriate follow-up treatment."
"This case exposed a shocking lack of safety oversight in South Carolina's child welfare system," said Ira Lustbader of Children's Rights, an advocacy group that was part of the boy's legal team. "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."
Court papers show that the case settled earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. A DSS spokeswoman did not immediately comment on the case.
Shortly after the suit was filed, Boys Home of the South said the organization was restructuring its services, although officials said those plans had been in the works for more than a year and were not prompted by the lawsuit.
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