(SAN BERNARDINO, CA) - A family of five young siblings is suing the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services and a foster care agency contracted by the CFS, alleging the two youngest members of the family were sexually abused in a foster care home in Victorville over three years.
To make matters worse, according to the lawyer representing the family, the foster care family had been decertified by the County because of previous abuse claims and it wasn't discovered for more than 15 years because of a clerical error. Over those 15 years, more than 50 children were placed in the home.
The oldest of the siblings, whom we are not identifying because she is a minor, told FOX 11 News's Gina Silva that she, her brother and three younger sisters were subjected to all kinds of acts of neglect and mistreatment. According to the 17-year-old girl, "We were always locked outside and we had to use the bathroom outside. So we had to make a little fort, like a tree fort, that was our bathroom."
While all the children allegedly were subjected to mistreatment, the youngest girls, according to the suit were also sexually abused by the foster father with the foster mother's knowledge. The attorney for the children, Jack Anthony, told Gina in addition to sexual conduct, the foster father took nude photos of the children and told them he had done the same to other children who were placed in the home over the years.
The older children say they didn't know about the sexual abuse, but looking back, there were signs. The foster teen told Gina "every single night, I'd wake up and sisters were not in their beds…they were on the couch with him. I never caught one something was happening." Our confidential sources tell us a social worker was the first to discover the mistake. When he gave police detectives a list of all the foster kids who had lived with the couple, according to the sources, he got into trouble and was written up for "sending confidential information to unauthorized personnel" even though he was helping with a child molestation investigation. He was taken off the case.
The kids are now in a safe place, the foster parents are facing a criminal investigation, and the County of San Bernardino is facing a lawsuit.
Attorney Jack Anthony says "not just one person, but several people, dropped the ball and the kids suffered tremendously as a result.
When asked by Gina what hurt her most about her experience in the home, the oldest sibling answered "that nobody listened to us. No social worker had our back."
We have repeatedly asked the head of CFS, Marlene Hagen, to sit down with us to discuss the allegations from the whistleblowers in our reports. Through a spokesperson, Hagen has repeatedly declined, but she has again issued a written statement. Here it is in its entirety.
Statement from Marlene Hagen, Director of San Bernardino County Children and Family Services
"The safety of our children is our highest priority, and when a child cannot be safely maintained in their own home, we strive for each child in our care to be placed in a safe, loving and nurturing environment; often times this is with a relative or close family friend. Each child has a team of professionals who work to ensure their safety as well as their physical, emotional and educational well-being while in foster care.
When children are in foster care, they not only have a county social worker who is responsible for visiting with them monthly, but they also have an attorney and an attorney-assigned social worker who also maintains regular contact with the child. If a child is placed in a foster family agency home, in addition to the county social worker and the child's attorney, there is also a foster family agency social worker who visits with the child at least 3 times per month.
Anytime we receive an allegation of abuse we take it seriously and investigate it thoroughly.
In 2014, 99.76 percent of San Bernardino County children in foster care had no incidents of abuse by their caregivers. Since 2012, San Bernardino County has met or exceeded the national standard, 99.68 percent, for no incidents of abuse while placed in foster care. We encourage anyone who believes a child is being mistreated to report it immediately to their local child protection or law enforcement agency."