TACOMA, Wash. - A toddler left blind and quadriplegic from injuries she suffered in her purported father’s care has agreed to settle a lawsuit against the state for $19.3 million, her attorneys said.
The state Department of Social and Health Services in 2015 sent the 18-month-old foster child, identified by the initials M.D. in the lawsuit, to Texas to live with the man and his wife.
He severely beat her two months later, injuring her to the extent that she won’t ever be able to feed or care for herself, her attorneys said.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the child in Pierce County Superior Court, says the state failed to review Washington and Texas records that raised safety concerns about the man’s home.
“DSHS told the dependency court that there were ‘no red flags’ regarding the alleged father and strongly advocated that M.D. be placed with him,” Ressler and Tesh, the law firm that represented the girl, said in a statement that announced the settlement Friday.
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The newly created state Department of Children, Youth and Families now oversees the foster care system.
“The irrevocable harm done to this child is devastating and heart-breaking,” Ross Hunter, the agency’s secretary, said in a statement Wednesday. “This settlement ensures the child receives the quality care she needs for the duration of her life.
“... We understand that we cannot prevent every tragedy, but we can do a better job of reducing the number of them that happen under our watch. DCYF was created to better support at-risk families and reduce the risk of harm to children.”
The lawsuit gives this account of what happened:
The girl lived with the man and his wife — who is not her mother — in Austin, Texas, in early 2014. The baby was brought to Washington and lived with her mother until DSHS took the child away in June of that year. The suit does not state why.
The agency recommended the child be sent back to the Texas man, who it believed was the girl’s father. DSHS never confirmed that, even though the Pierce County Juvenile Court ordered a paternity test. His name is not on the girl’s birth certificate.
A Texas social worker told DSHS about a domestic violence incident in which the man assaulted his wife by choking her, but the Washington agency still recommended the child go back to Texas.
The local social worker assigned to the child’s case hadn’t read a Texas home study, which showed the man had more criminal history than he’d reported to DSHS.
The toddler was sent to Texas in April 2015 and on July 9, the man called paramedics to report she was having a seizure. He later told investigators he punched the girl in the ribs and spanked her after she went to the bathroom on the living room floor.
He was criminally charged for her injuries, and is serving more than 20 years in prison.
“This little girl was utterly failed by DSHS, the very agency charged with protecting her,” Tim Tesh, one of the girl’s attorneys said in the law firm’s statement.
“By ignoring serious warning signs that should have resulted in M.D. remaining in a loving foster home, M.D. was instead flown to Texas where she was placed with a man who was both a felon and a convicted domestic abuser,” Tesh said. “DSHS knew this and yet placed M.D. there anyway. The tragic results were predictable and preventable.”
Tesh told The News Tribune the girl just had her fifth birthday, and that she’s being well cared for at a group facility in Eastern Washington.
“They’re doing a great job,” he said.