$8 million to sisters abused in Whatcom County foster home

LAKE STEVENS — A Whatcom County jury awarded $8 million to two former Lake Stevens sisters who were sexually abused in foster care.

The lawsuit alleged that the state Department of Social and Health Services ignored its own records showing that a teenage boy living in the foster home was accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old cousin years earlier.

The girls reported being abused for years by the boy and his brother, according to court records.

“This was an unimaginable misstep by the agency whose sole purpose is to safeguard children,” said Raymond Dearie, the attorney for the girls.

The girls were removed from their mother’s Lake Stevens home in 2002. They were placed with the Whatcom County family in 2003. The girls were 3 and 6.

The foster parents have three biological sons. The state had received a report in 2001 that the couple’s 13-year-old son was seen sexually assaulting a cousin. DSHS records also indicated that the teen also had been the victim of sexual assault, according to the lawsuit. He had undergone counseling, but it had proven unsuccessful, Dearie wrote in court papers.

The girls were adopted by the family in 2004. The lawsuit alleged that the state failed to properly interview or screen those living in the home. A social worker admitted that the state didn’t do a background check on the boys during the pre-adoption screening, according to court records.

“Because of the agency’s gaping oversight, two innocent little girls were led into a horrible environment of depravity and violence, and their lives will never be the same,” Dearie said.

A judge in November found that the state was liable for the abuse. A jury was asked to determine how much the state owed the sisters. The trial lasted about a month.

During her testimony, the oldest, now 19, testified that she was motivated to sue the state because, “it wouldn’t be fair for any other kids to go through what we went through.”

One brother pleaded guilty in 2014 to three counts of child molestation and was sentenced 5½ years in prison. The other brother also is charged with sex crimes. He evaded police for more than two years, according to court papers. His trial is scheduled for later this month.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley.

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