Fostering Sexual Abuse

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

Ellis did not know that Julio had been severely sexually abused in his biological family's home, that he was being treated for the abuse, that he'd acted out sexually many times. And Ellis did not know about David's history of acting out with Julio.

Of course, all that information was available in CPS files.
Hammond, who is no longer with the agency, disagreed with Ellis' version, testifying that she had "shared with Ellis the information about the kids."

CPS officials, citing employee confidentiality rules, could not say whether either Hammond or Ellis were disciplined for their handling of Jason's case.

Now 12, Jason has vivid memories of his stay at the James foster home.
James, he recalls, was a big "smelly" man with a beard and glasses. He remembers the foster father "shed hair like a cat." He recalls the stench of the house, the animal urine, the dirty sheets, the bad food. James would make him take naps on James' bed, Jason says, and the foster dad poured a glass of water on the 5-year-old if he didn't go to sleep. He says his foster dad never molested him.

"I remember the first day I got there I didn't like it," he says. He missed Chris, the big brother who protected him.

Jason says his roommate, David, also fell prey to Julio.
What did Julio do to David?
"It's kind of hard to explain," says Jason. "It is what happened to me."
He does not remember ever seeing his caseworker.
What would he say to Julio now, if he met him on the street?
"I wouldn't even talk to him," says Jason.
And would he say anything to his former foster father?
"I wouldn't tell him anything," says Jason.

He is devoted to his uncle Mike, who cooks for him, teaches at his school, takes him to sporting events, makes him do his homework. Mike makes lollipops, and spaghetti sauce from scratch.

For years, Jason had nightmares that CPS would take him from his uncle. Now, he says, "If anyone tried to take me away, I would kick and scream."

Now 24, Mike was a teenager when the boys were dropped at his doorstep in 1992. He put off his own plans to go to college so he could parent Chris and Jason.

The state offered to pay for counseling for Jason, says Mike, but after a few sessions the family grew distrustful of the state counselors and feared that CPS would take the kids away again.

"There have been many times," says Mike, "when I've thought to myself, 'Does Jason really need to be in this lawsuit?' Then I think of the therapy he needs, and we don't have the money. . . . Plus, this has to stop. There must be tons of children out there who were molested."

Vanessa is 16. She is grotesquely thin, looks anorexic, says she eats only one meal a day. Sitting on the couch in her grandmother's house in southern Arizona, Vanessa says she quit going to high school last year because kids made fun of her skinniness and her speech impediment--she was born without a palate and has endured several operations. Mostly, Vanessa says, she hangs out at her grandmother's house and watches TV.

She does not like to talk about what happened 11 years ago, when her grandmother's boyfriend, Phil, also lived at the house.

"I don't remember nothing," she says at first.
When questioned again about what Phil did to her, she gets angry: "I've blocked it away from my head, that way I don't have to think about it or nothing. Then you come and bring it back in my head. I don't want to remember nothing. . . . I just get very angry. I just hate talking to anybody about this. It happened such a long time ago, I don't know why everyone is bringing it up now."

She looks down at the stylish platform sneakers that her grandmother bought her.

"When I'm all alone, and there's nobody here, I think about what happened and I get angry and I get mad."

According to court documents, Vanessa was 5 years old when Phil molested her.

It didn't have to happen.
The year before, CPS had taken Vanessa from her mother, who had abused her, and placed her with her grandmother. Although state law requires CPS to do background checks on all adults living in a home before a child is placed there, no one completed a background check on Phil.

If the CPS caseworker had done her job, she would have learned that Phil had been convicted of child molestation in California, long before he took up with Vanessa's grandmother.

The grandmother's judgment was blinded by love at the time. She knew Phil was a recovering heroin addict and a practicing alcoholic with several DUIs to show for it. She knew he was violent--he once shoved her around enough to prompt her to call the police.

Vanessa must have been an ideal victim.
She couldn't talk very well, which may explain why, when she tried to tell a CPS caseworker what happened, the caseworker didn't understand.

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