By MEG KINNARD
COLUMBIA - South Carolina's social services agency failed to protect a 6-year-old girl from a teenage foster child with known behavioral problems who was HIV-positive and admitted to sexually assaulting the girl, according to a lawsuit.
The lawsuit currently pending in Richland County was filed last month by the girl's mother, who accuses the Department of Social Services of negligence. According to the lawsuit, a 14-year-old boy who had been placed in a foster home sexually assaulted the girl in June 2013 after he was left unsupervised by his foster parent.
The boy had been removed from his mother's home in 2012 and placed in the foster care system. Officials at DSS knew that the boy had severe behavioral problems, had been sexually abused and was HIV-positive, according to the lawsuit.
But during his stay in foster care, according to court papers, DSS officials didn't ensure that the teen was properly monitored or got appropriate counseling or other therapies for his behavioral problems. The lawsuit says that negligence ultimately resulted in the girl's abuse and exposure to HIV.
Because the agency knew of the teen's history of abuse and his HIV-positive status, "DSS knew or should have known that he presented a heightened threat to others, especially young children, with whom he might come into contact," according to the suit, filed by Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian.
The boy ultimately admitted that he had assaulted the girl and was charged with criminal sexual conduct, according to the lawsuit. Court papers do not indicate if the girl is also now HIV-positive.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, a DSS spokeswoman said the agency investigated the situation, determined that treatment plans had not been followed and had subsequently disallowed the foster parent involved from having future foster children.
"Like everyone involved in this situation, the staff at the Department of Social Services is deeply saddened at what took place here," Marilyn Matheus said. "The agency is committed, and always will be, to finding the best and most appropriate foster parents possible for our at-risk children and will never stop working to make our communities safer places."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP