The state of Oregon has paid $750,000 to three English-speaking foster kids who were placed in the Gresham home of Spanish-speaking foster parents and forced to wear filthy clothes smelling of urine and sleep in a windowless basement.
Two of the three brothers also were sexually abused by another, older male foster child — and they were unable to tell that to their foster parents because their foster parents didn’t speak English, said Portland attorney David Paul, who represented the brothers.
Paul said the brothers’ isolation was made even worse because child-protection workers with the Oregon Department of Human Services failed to regularly check on the boys. Department rules require workers to have at least one face-to-face interaction with each foster child every 30 days. But Paul said one of the boys didn’t have any in-person visits with a DHS caseworker in the entire eight months he lived in the home in 2012 and 2013.
“There was a shocking lack of face-to-face visits with the children,” Paul said. “They can’t complain and they can’t speak candidly to their foster parents because they don’t speak the same language. And then they can’t reach out to DHS, because DHS isn’t visiting them.”
A DHS spokeswoman, Andrea Cantu-Schomus, declined comment this week about the lawsuit and settlement — saying that the court case hasn’t been officially closed. The state of Oregon, however, paid the boys in September and the check has been cashed.
Cantu-Schomus said the foster parents named in this case are “no longer providing care in Oregon but were in good standing.”
Cantu-Schomus didn’t respond to a request for information about current DHS policy. But in April 2016, the day after the lawsuit was filed, she told The Oregonian/OregonLive that DHS doesn’t have a policy prohibiting the placement of children in foster homes where their language isn’t spoken. Cantu-Schomus wrote in an email that the language spoken “is one of many considerations when making a foster placement decision.”
Paul said there were plenty of signs that something in the home was amiss, but the child welfare agency failed to act to protect the boys. Among those signs, he said, was evidence that foster children who previously lived in the Gresham home were being sexually abused by an older, male foster child — and acting out in concerning ways.
In one instance, the agency received a report that one of the older, male foster child’s victims had tried to perform a sexual act on another child in the home, Paul said.
Some time later, when the three brothers moved into the home, the older foster child victimized them, too, Paul said. The older foster child later confessed — and that prompted the state to remove the three brothers from the home.
School officials also had been reporting concerns that something was going on in the home because the boys were coming to school dirty and were struggling academically, Paul said.
The three boys’ biological mother, who was allowed visitation sessions with them, also noticed dramatic changes and she reported her concerns to the child welfare agency, Paul said. Among the mother’s concerns — that her children had started playing with dolls by placing them in sexual positions and making them kiss, Paul said.
The biological mother lost custody of her sons under allegations that she failed to protect them against another adult who posed a threat, Paul said. When the state finally pulled them from the Gresham foster home, the boys returned to her care and they are now living with her with no oversight from DHS, Paul said.
“They come back a shadow of their former selves,” Paul said.
The brothers were 4, 6 and 7 years old when they were placed in the Gresham foster home.
Paul said today, more than three years after their return to their mother, they still have problems but are doing much better. Paul said the settlement will pay for counseling for the boys and other beneficial therapy, such as self-esteem-building activities or camps.
Paul worked on the case with Sergio Garciduenas-Sease from a law firm in Yakima.
According to court papers filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the boys will split the settlement evenly, and the use of the money will be overseen by a conservator until the boys reach adulthood. Each boy will receive about $120,000, for a total of about $360,000.
About $90,000 of the settlement money will go to paying costs associated with building and investigating the case that grew to more than 55,000 pages over a three-year span. The attorneys will receive about $300,000.