DSHS settles Tacoma foster children's abuse case for $11 million
A lawsuit that had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court early next year has been resolved, with the state agreeing to pay $11 million. The suit was filed against the Department of Social and Health Services by six former foster children who were sexually and physically abused in a Tacoma home.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The state has agreed to pay $11 million to resolve a lawsuit filed against the Department of Social and Health Services by six former foster children who say they were sexually and physically abused in a Tacoma home their lawyer described as a "house of horrors."
The lawsuit had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court early next year, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that they had been abused over a period of years by Jose and Juanita Miranda in a foster home that never should have been licensed.
The plaintiffs also claimed that the state failed to fully investigate multiple complaints about the home and missed many opportunities to rescue the children.
"It was not a home. It was a house of horrors," said Jeremy Johnston, an attorney for plaintiffs, when the lawsuit was filed last year.
DSHS said the case was settled to avoid the expense of a costly and complex trial and further stress for the plaintiffs.
"We regret that these children suffered at the hands of adults they had trusted to love and keep them safe," said Denise Revels Robinson, the head of DSHS's Children's Administration.
Jose Miranda died in prison three years ago after he confessed to abusing his foster children and was convicted of three counts of first-degree child rape, two counts of first-degree child molestation and two counts of third-degree assault of a child.
His wife died of a drug overdose in a Tacoma park in 2006, court documents show.
Juanita Miranda had a history of drug use and criminal violations, court records show. She had been arrested more than 50 times and had lost custody of her own children while she was living in California, according to the suit. Further, she was under the supervision of Washington's Department of Corrections when DSHS licensed her as a foster parent, the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit alleged that the children were routinely and repeatedly beaten, drugged and sexually assaulted in a padlocked room. They also were forced to wear diapers and to fake ailments to increase their foster-care benefits, the lawsuit claimed.
DSHS ignored years of complaints from social workers, guardians, teachers, neighbors, relatives, coaches, family friends, parents of the foster children and the children themselves, the lawsuit claimed.
DSHS said lessons learned from the Miranda case, as well as other cases of abuse and neglect, have sparked changes that focus on child safety.
For example, child-welfare investigators no longer rely on children's word that they are not being abused or neglected, but instead must gather additional information from other sources. The department also now uses a standardized, automated statewide process to create more consistency in its response to allegations of abuse and neglect.
The process for placing children is now more formal and there is more collaboration between various state departments on matters that affect child safety, according to DSHS.
"Although nothing can change what happened in the home," said department spokeswoman Chris Case, "DSHS believes that the agreement fairly compensates these individuals, who can use the proceeds to meet any special needs they may have in the future."
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.