COLUMBIA - South Carolina's social services agency repeatedly placed a young girl and her brother together in the same foster homes, even though officials knew for years that one was sexually abusing the other, according to a lawsuit filed against the state Department of Social Services and others.
That allegation is part of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the girl, now 19, against DSS, several companies contracted to provide group home foster care, and several employees for grossly negligent supervision.
The case traces back to 1999, when the girl, then 4 years old, was removed from her mother's South Carolina home along with her 8-year-old brother. The lawsuit states not only did relatives abuse both children but that the boy admitted to having sex with his sister.
Despite that disclosure, the suit alleges, the department continued to place the siblings together, in foster homes, group homes and with relatives. The brother's abuse of the sister also continued despite a warning to the department from a therapist in 2001 who had treated the girl that the children had been intimate.
"True to form, DSS continued to attempt to place the children together," the girl's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
Social Services officials even tried to have the children adopted together, according to the suit, but the girl was ultimately adopted alone in 2003. Her adoptive parents weren't given details about her abuse history and only learned about her past after the girl revealed the abuse during counseling, which her parents sought after she began to act out at home.
In court papers, DSS and the youth homes where the children lived have denied the allegations, saying they could not have anticipated the "alleged intentional and criminal conduct" of the girl's brother. In a statement to The Associated Press, a DSS spokeswoman said the agency works hard to ensure the safety of children in its care.
"There is nothing more important at the Department of Social Services than working to respond to families in crisis and the tragedies that result from abuse and neglect," Marilyn Matheus said. "Making sure our children in foster care are placed with the best foster parents possible and in safe and loving environments will always be one of our top priorities."
The girl subsequently suffered from behavioral problems and had to be confined to residential treatment for a time because her adoptive parents weren't able to control her, according to her attorneys. The agency's attitude toward children's safety ultimately breeds patterns of abuse that can eventually land the children in juvenile detention or jail.
"These children get raped, and they themselves become sexually aggressive," Robert Butcher, one of the girl's attorneys, said in a recent interview with the AP. "It's creating a cycle, and it's creating monsters within. And to compound the problem, they don't provide these children with sexual trauma therapy."
The girl's brother, who remained in the foster care system until he aged out, is currently in jail, accused of molesting another child, Butcher said.
"Although not every foster child becomes a criminal, you do understand that this is a symptom of South Carolina's illness, which is our foster care system," Butcher said.