Relatives of Foster Child Sue D.C., Alleging Negligence

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007

The family of a boy who suffered severe brain damage at the hands of an abusive foster mother filed a $50 million lawsuit yesterday against the District, claiming that the city was negligent in placing the child in the care of a woman who was desperately short of money and who had returned another foster child months before.

Filed in D.C. Superior Court by the boy's grandmother, Sylvia Pearson, the suit charges that the District bears a measure of responsibility for Rafael Pearson's life-altering injuries. The city should have known better than to put the boy in the home of Tanya Jenkins and should have done more to ensure that he got proper care once he was there, the suit alleges.

Rafael Pearson was just a few days old when he was placed with Jenkins in September 2005. A social worker had taken the baby from his mother after he was born with cocaine in his system and it became apparent that his mother did not have a habitable home.

Jenkins was supposed to care for Rafael at her Southeast Washington apartment while his case was resolved by social workers, the courts and his extended family. Pearson and other family members had adopted Rafael's two older sisters and expressed an intention to eventually adopt Rafael as well.

Jenkins had returned another foster child, also a newborn, after five weeks because Jenkins was having health problems, she said. In Rafael's case, the social worker assigned to monitor the foster placement failed to keep close watch, visiting only once in the six weeks before the abuse came to light.

Rafael's arrival apparently brought new stresses to Jenkins, even though the city was giving her financial assistance to care for him. According to prosecutors, she lashed out at the infant. He was beaten and shaken repeatedly, and he sustained massive brain damage, prosecutors said.

Now almost 20 months old, he cannot walk or talk. He is blind and is likely to develop severe cerebral palsy. He lives in a nursing home in Dunn Loring.

Jenkins was convicted of cruelty to children, and was sentenced last week to 12 years in prison.

Rafael's grandmother has said that she was not initially inclined to sue but decided to file the case to ensure that Rafael can receive the best possible care for as long as he lives. The suit, drafted by attorneys Sidney Schupak and Michelle A. Parfitt of Ashcraft & Gerel and Geoffrey P. Gitner of Blank Rome, alleges gross negligence on the part of the city.

The D.C. attorney general's office, contacted late yesterday, had no immediate comment.

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