By MEG KINNARD
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Chronic mismanagement by South Carolina's foster care agency led to an 11-year-old boys' home resident being sexually assaulted by an older child, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this year.
The lawsuit, filed in April in Abbeville County, says officials at the Boys Home of the South - a 52-bed nonprofit in Belton that relies on government referrals and private donations to care for boys in the foster system - turned a blind eye to problems that they should have known would ultimately end up with children being harmed.
It also accuses the state Department of Social Services of gross negligence and violating the victim's rights to adequate care and a safe placement.
A spokeswoman said DSS would fight the allegations in court. The CEO of Boys Home of the South issued a statement saying the institution's highest priority is its residents' care.
The plaintiff, who is not named in the suit, says he was placed in the foster care system in May 2010 and ended up at a cottage at the Boys Home after social services officials failed to place him with a foster family. It was in that cottage the night of March 28, 2011, that an older boy - who, according to the lawsuit, had been sexually inappropriate with other boys in the past - assaulted the plaintiff in the back of the building.
An adult was also in the cottage but was asleep at the time, according to the lawsuit, something allowed under the home's policies.
The younger boy was ultimately moved to another cottage and left the Boys Home altogether a few months later. Officials did two internal investigations, according to the lawsuit, initially finding no staffers at fault but later determining that the cottage supervisor hadn't adequately monitored the children.
After the alleged abuse, the boy got inadequate counseling and slit his wrists with a razor blade, requiring hospitalization, according to the lawsuit.
But the suit says the problems predate the alleged 2011 abuse. Two years earlier, the lawsuit says, DSS officials were aware that they didn't have enough foster families in which to place children, thereby putting them instead in institution-style settings, such as the Boys Home, which were subsequently mismanaged and inadequately supervised.
In a 2010 annual progress report, the lawsuit noted, DSS "stated that the agency was not adequately monitoring the medical needs of children in its custody and that, as a result, children did not receive appropriate follow-up treatment."
"It is unconscionable that this young boy landed in such a facility in the first place," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, an advocacy group that is part of the boy's legal team. "Foster care is supposed to improve children's lives, not destroy them."
In a statement to The Associated Press, Boys Home of the South CEO Al Squire said his organization has cared for more than 10,000 boys since it opened in 1958, complies with all regulations and has residents' care as its highest concern.
"If over the years inappropriate conduct were to occur, we would, and will, respond with proper protocols," Squire said. "We will continue to work with DSS in matters of care for boys."
DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said the lawsuit left out important elements of the case.
"The attorneys for the plaintiffs have issued a press release that presents only one side of the story," she said in a statement to AP. "DSS will respond through its attorneys during the court proceedings rather than trying to litigate in the media."
No hearings have been scheduled yet.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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