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D.C. settles for $10 million in foster care abuse case

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Sylvia Pearson, who had watched her daughter succumb to drugs and the streets, told the social worker to take the baby. Pearson had already adopted one of her daughter's children, and her son had adopted the other. Now, they would have to find a way to help Raffy, who was going to stay in foster care while everything was sorted out.

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He ended up with Tanya Jenkins, a new foster parent who was unemployed and lived in Southeast Washington with her 2-year-old son and her boyfriend. Earlier that year, another infant had been placed with Jenkins, but she had sent the child back after five weeks, saying she had health problems that made it difficult to care for the small child.

Despite the red flag, the Child and Family Services Agency came to Jenkins five months later when they needed a home for Raffy. Jenkins agreed but said she didn't have the money to care for the child and would need CFSA to rush the assistance that is routinely provided to help with costs such as additional food.

But even without the additional child, she was struggling, according to testimony at her trial. She told a neighbor that the financial assistance from the District would keep her from being evicted.

Once Raffy arrived, the stress mounted for Jenkins, according to the neighbor, who testified that Jenkins was complaining about never sleeping. Meanwhile, the city's long-troubled child welfare agency wasn't keeping tabs on Jenkins or the baby who had been entrusted to her. A social worker should have visited every week for the first eight weeks. The agency made one visit during the 43 days Raffy was in the home.

It was another harrowing episode in the annals of the District's beleaguered child welfare system, and when they filed suit, Pearson's attorneys, Sidney Schupak and Michelle A. Parfitt of Ashcraft & Gerel, planned to put the entire system on trial.

Instead, the District agreed to pay one of the largest settlements in its history, as well as $2 million in attorneys' fees.

Robert J. Spagnoletti, who was the District's attorney general under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said a settlement as large as the one in this case had never crossed his desk. "It's a very big settlement," but not necessarily unreasonable, said Spagnoletti, now a partner at Schertler & Onorato.

Patrick M. Regan, a leading plaintiffs attorney in the District, called the settlement a "significant" sum of money, but said the amount had to be viewed in the context of the needs the child and his family will face over a lifetime. "It's fair," Regan said.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who was involved in the settlement negotiations, did not return a call today seeking comment.


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