Foster care abuse is far too common and has been a major issue for a long time. In 2003, Frontline prepared a comprehensive report called Failure to Protect detailing some of the egregious lapses within the foster care industry. The executive director of Children’s Rights, Inc. told Frontline that foster children cannot be considered safe within the foster care system.
Today, abuse and neglect tragically continues. The Chronicle of Social Change reported on tragic incidents of foster parents starving foster kids and committing egregious types of abusive acts on kids throughout the country. The Chronicle of Social Change also indicated many published abuse figures may not be 100 percent accurate, since most data comes from internal investigations of abuse by the same child welfare agencies placing kids in these dangerous foster homes in the first place.
When kids are abused, in foster care or otherwise, they have rights and they should be protected. It is especially tragic when children are in foster care because of abuse or neglect and are put into homes which are as bad or worse as the ones they were taken from. When abuse occurs, it is important to understand what options are available for holding child welfare agencies accountable for abusive behavior.
If a child is abused in foster care, the child may have the ability to pursue a case against the child welfare agency which has wronged them. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to make cases against child welfare agencies, which are arms of the government throughout much of the United States. There are qualified immunity protections and sovereign immunity rules that preclude many claims against government agencies and officials, so kids who were abused within the foster care system may be prevented from making a typical tort claim.
Foster children sometimes make claims against child welfare agencies under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 in order to attempt to obtain compensation for abuse they have endured. Pursuing a case under this federal law can help foster kids to get around state laws that provide protection from lawsuits for child welfare agencies in some jurisdictions. However, states themselves cannot be sued in federal court, and the standard of liability under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 is higher than typical tort cases. The foster agencies and caseworkers would only be held accountable if their behaviors exhibit “deliberate indifference” to the possible harm the child would suffer in an abusive care situation.
Due to the complexities associated with holding foster care providers accountable, children who are victims of abuse should consult with an attorney as soon as they reach adulthood and are able to make claims for compensation. An attorney can also provide assistance to parents or guardians who wish to pursue cases on behalf of children when it turns out those children have been victimized in a foster care setting.