Fostering Sexual Abuse

Foster kids say the state ignored its own policies, exposing them to sexual predators

Editor's note: The names of child sex-abuse victims, their relatives, the state-licensed foster parents and the actual perpetrators have been changed to protect the victims, who still reside in Arizona and are still minors. All others in this story have been accurately identified.

Stephanie and Brittany Jackson
As they walked toward the run-down East Valley tract home, Joy and Brian Jackson warmed to the two little strangers who burst out of the front door, shrieking: "Mommy! Daddy!"

The Jacksons knew right away on that day in November 1990 that they would adopt Stephanie, then 6, and her 4-year-old sister, Brittany. The Jacksons figured all the grief the state Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) adoption caseworkers had put them through had been worth it.

Both Phoenix-area professionals with advanced college degrees, the Jacksons decided to adopt after they learned they couldn't have children of their own. They had willingly submitted to the state's pre-adoption process--had undergone numerous, sometimes hostile interviews, had taken parenting classes, had even turned over tax statements to prove they weren't lying about their considerable income. At the end of the process, the Jacksons wondered if the state would ever let them adopt a child.

Then the Jacksons were told by DES that they had qualified to adopt what were touted as the "best children" in the system--Stephanie and Brittany. They were told the little girls had been removed from their alcoholic, neglectful birth mother nearly three years before, only to be happily and successfully placed in the warm and loving Jones foster home, one of the finest homes in the state foster-care system.

Throughout that November, the Jacksons visited the children every day at the Jones foster home as part of the pre-adoption, getting-to-know-you process. They became troubled because Lucy Jones, the foster mother, was frequently absent and the children were left in the care of the foster mother's natural son, 16-year-old Hubert Jones.

The Jacksons felt uncomfortable when Hubert often excused himself during their visits, whisking little Brittany into the bathroom "to do her hair" for a half-hour at a time. And they didn't like the girls' "room," a section of the Jones carport that had been partitioned off with plywood, a roach-infested space furnished only with dirty bunk beds. It seemed strange to the Jacksons that the little girls had no toys, watched only Cartoon Network and could not yet identify letters or numbers.

Fearing that if they complained they would not be allowed to adopt Stephanie and Brittany, the Jacksons did not voice their concerns with the girls' caseworker from Child Protective Services--the subagency of DES that is charged with placing and watching over thousands of children in state-licensed foster homes.

Then, as today, children were removed from their biological parents and placed in foster care if caseworkers believed the children had been abused or neglected. CPS then placed the children in state-licensed foster facilities--group homes or private residences of foster parents paid by the state to care for the children. There was a shortage of foster homes in large part because the state was unwilling to fully reimburse foster parents for housing children. The only way to turn a meager profit as a foster parent was to take in as many children as possible. Lucy Jones often housed five or six foster children at a time.

It was only after Stephanie and Brittany had moved into the Jacksons' home that they told their adoptive parents that Hubert often "played husband" on them while "Mama Lucy," their foster mother, was off doing errands.

The Jacksons immediately told CPS that they believed the girls had been sexually abused while in the state-licensed Jones foster home.

Hubert confessed to Mesa police on January 7, 1991. He admitted making the younger girl, Brittany, engage in oral sex in the bathroom, admitted sexually abusing the naked preschooler while watching The Price Is Right in the living room in the presence of Stephanie, admitted thrusting his finger into the 4-year-old's vagina. Hubert couldn't explain to police why he did it. He promised police he would get counseling and not stay at his mother's house as long as there were foster kids there.

Hubert did not confess to sexually abusing Stephanie, although Stephanie claims that Hubert molested her during Mama Lucy's absences.

Despite his confession, Hubert was never prosecuted.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has no record of Hubert's case being referred by police for prosecution, and Mesa police say they cannot locate the police report. However, a transcript of Hubert's taped police confession still exists--it was filed with CPS.

Stephanie and Brittany eventually sued CPS, their caseworker and Lucy Jones in 1994, claiming that the state failed to protect them because caseworkers ignored CPS policies and procedures for keeping foster kids safe. They claimed that their former foster mom ignored clear signs that the girls were being sexually abused and negligently left them in the care of the abuser, her own son. In 1996, Stephanie and Brittany each received a $400,000 settlement from the state as compensation for the psychological damages wrought by Hubert Jones.

Their Pima County Superior Court case is one of several filed in the past decade by children who claimed to have been sexually abused while in state foster care. The steady stream of court cases raises troubling questions about whether CPS adequately licenses foster-care facilities, whether agency caseworkers satisfactorily place and monitor vulnerable children in the state foster care system.

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