DSHS’ lack of protections for vulnerable citizens troubling

The state Department of Social and Health Services announced Thursday it must pay $8 million to two foster children who were abused after being placed in the home of a child molester. Sen. Steve O’Ban expressed deep disappointment that the state agency continues failing to protect vulnerable children and adults.

“Washington residents should expect that their state government is fulfilling its duty to protect our most vulnerable citizens,” said O’Ban, R-Pierce County, who serves as chair of the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee. “We continue to see a dangerous pattern where foster youth, people with developmental disabilities and other at-risk people who suffer abuse – especially children – are not protected by the state.”

According to the lawsuit, DSHS placed two girls into a foster home but failed to interview or screen its residents. O’Ban said the background of all people living in the home would have been easily accessible had the agency checked. A child of the foster family living in the home had previously been accused of sexually assaulting a child. Subsequently the two girls were sexually, emotionally and physically abused for years by two people in the home.

O’Ban sponsored successful legislation in 2015 known as “Aidan’s Act,” named for a Port Orchard child who was severely abused during infancy and is permanently disabled due to mishandling of his case by the state’s Child Protective Services agency, an arm of DSHS. The new law requires immediate review when a social worker decides not to remove a child from the home, even if additional allegations of abuse are reported.

“This pattern of neglect by management and higher leaders at DSHS and ultimately a lack of accountability is putting the most vulnerable in danger,” said O’Ban.

O’Ban is now moving a bill through the Legislature to increase protections for high-risk adults and children with developmental disabilities, which stemmed from a serious case of abuse by an individual’s own care worker.