State to pay $8M to settle child abuse, neglect claim

By Brian Rosenthal |The Seattle Times

OLYMPIA — Six siblings who said they suffered 2½ years of physical abuse and neglect while living with a family friend will get a combined $8 million from Washington state as part of a legal settlement reached this week.

The King County children, who are now between 9 and 21 years old, said in a 2012 lawsuit that they were repeatedly beaten and tortured between 2008 and 2011 and that the state allowed the abuse to continue by failing to properly investigate 17 separate tips to the Child Protective Services (CPS) division of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

The family friend, with whom the children were living because they would otherwise have been homeless, denied the children food and access to showers and forced them to attack each other, according to the lawsuit.

On several occasions, the suit said, the children showed up at day care with bruises on their faces.

“Countless concerned citizens — day-care workers, school counselors, even a hair-salon worker — picked up the phone and reported the concerns they had,” said attorney Julie Kays, who represented the children along with co-worker Lincoln Beauregard. “Time and again CPS failed to act on these concerns and failed to protect the children.”

The family friend, Maria Gonzales Esquivel, who lived near Federal Way, is in jail awaiting trial on multiple assault charges involving one of the children and the child’s father. She has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is scheduled for June.

Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman for DSHS, said that “any abuse of a child is a tragedy. We are glad that the individual accused of this horrible crime is in jail and will be tried before a court.”

The settlement was reached Tuesday, one day after the department agreed to pay $3 million to settle another case in which a woman claimed officials allowed sexual abuse to continue by not adequately investigating when she gave birth at age 12 after receiving essentially no prenatal care.

The timing of the settlements appeared coincidental.

Chambers said CPS received more than 41,500 reports of abuse in 2013 alone and works hard to respond but inevitably makes mistakes.

“Any time our practice is not perfect, we have to make a good-faith effort to settle,” she said. “ We hope the settlement money will be used for the benefit of these children — for education, for treatment, for what they need as they move into and through adulthood.”

Kays said the lawsuit was never about the money but holding the state accountable.

“This settlement is never going to erase the memories of what happened,” she said. “Nothing can. This lawsuit is important because, hopefully, it will bring about a greater awareness that CPS needs to change the way it conducts child-abuse investigations.”


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