Fostering Sexual Abuse

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

The legal imbroglio places Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano in a delicate position. Much of her campaign centered on helping forgotten children, yet attorneys from her office are defending the state against the claims being filed by children.

"In my view," Napolitano says, "if the state has caused damages, we ought to reach an appropriate resolution and pay. But we also have an obligation not to pay without there being a level of proof.

"In the Bogutz case, there are a number of named clients, and each of those cases can be evaluated individually. . . . Going further and providing compensation for a large class is something else again, which is why we need the court to decide if we're talking about individuals or a broad class.

"My real concern," she concludes, "is if we have children who have been injured, let's take care of those kids."

CPS had received numerous complaints that Jason's mother, an alcoholic, had neglected and abused her three children.

Finally, a caseworker took decisive action in August 1990. Four-year-old Jason and his two older siblings were removed from their filthy Tucson apartment.

Concluding that Jason's mother was, for the moment, a lost cause, CPS called a family conference. Jason's aunts and grandmother and his then-teenage uncle Mike agreed the kids should be temporarily placed with a maternal aunt. But after a few months and the constant meddling of Jason's mom, the aunt returned the children to CPS.

Mike says the aunt failed to tell anyone else in the family that she was relinquishing the children--and Mike belatedly discovered that the 4-year-old was separated from his siblings and was being bounced from foster home to foster home.

In July 1991, when Jason was 5, CPS placed him in the foster home of John James, a divorced middle-aged schoolteacher with a heart condition. James had been a longtime foster father, but as early as 1986, according to CPS's own files, he was beginning to "burn out" on foster parenting. Nevertheless, there were six foster kids living with James when Jason arrived that summer. (The home was only licensed for four foster kids.)

One of the boys, Julio, had been sexually abused in his biological family's home and had been caught acting out sexually in other foster homes, according to CPS case notes. At the very time Jason arrived, CPS was paying for a therapist to help Julio deal with his sexual problems.

In 1989, months before Jason arrived, James had caught Julio and another foster child, David, with their pants down, according to CPS documents. Julio later confessed to CPS that he had sodomized David.

CPS caseworker Stephen Ellis placed little Jason in the James home despite the presence of two sexually active older boys.

In the 17 months that Jason stayed at the James foster home, Ellis visited him only six times, according to court documents. CPS policy required at least one monthly visit.

Jason's personality changed shortly after he got to the James home. He was expelled from preschool for being distracted and angry. He masturbated frequently.

In the fall of 1992, Jason's older brother Chris was moved into the James home. Julio propositioned Chris. Chris refused. Then Jason confided to Chris that he was being sodomized by Julio. At Chris' urging, the 6-year-old told his foster dad that Julio, then 15, had been sodomizing him.

CPS's own investigation confirmed the sodomy. Julio told CPS investigators he'd raped Jason, using Vaseline as a lubricant. He also said he forced the child to perform oral sex.

"The fact that these molests have been occurring for several years and that despite the fact that Julio was caught in sexual activity on at least two occasions should have raised concerns about the need to supervise him and to not permit him to share a bedroom with a child he had been observed to be involving in sexual activity," CPS investigator Andy Harclerode wrote in December 1992.

Harclerode wrote that the James home was filthy, that Jason's bedsheets were "malodorous" and that the foster father's own bedroom smelled of animal urine. When Harclerode queried David about a "large yellowish stain midway down [James'] bed near the edge," the boy identified it as "cat urine."

The social worker noted he had to air out his own clothes after his visits to the James foster home.

CPS notes say James voluntarily withdrew from the foster-care system in December 1992 because of Julio's sexual abuse of Jason. CPS licensing worker Holly Hammond noted that she doubted that James, who had by then adopted Julio, could "keep children safe and deny Julio access to them."

Jason was removed from the James home and was permanently placed with his uncle Mike and his grandmother.

He later joined the proposed class-action lawsuit, contending that he was sodomized by Julio because he was negligently placed in the home, and because his caseworker, Ellis, failed to adequately monitor him or make minimal required home visits.

Ellis, who has been promoted to a supervisory position within the agency, testified in a December 1998 deposition that he didn't recall checking the James foster home file or visiting the James home prior to placing Jason. And he said the licensing worker, Holly Hammond, did not tell him about the boys' sexual past.

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