King County jury awards almost $11M to woman abused under guardianship

Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — A King County jury this week awarded nearly $11 million in damages to a woman who was abused as a child while under the care of a legal guardian who had earlier been denied from becoming a licensed foster parent.

The woman, identified in the lawsuit by her initials, C.G., sued the state in February 2023, alleging the state agencies charged with her care had failed to protect her by placing her “in a dangerous home where she was repeatedly physically, sexually, and emotionally abused” starting in the mid-1990s. She also alleged the state failed to investigate later claims of abuse.

C.G. was born in fall 1994. Both she and her mother tested positive for methamphetamine. About a month later, C.G. was placed into foster care.

But her biological parents recommended she live with a different set of caregivers. C.G. was placed in that other home in 1995 via a legal guardianship, and in court documents, C.G.’s lawyers said the Department of Social and Health Services did not object, did not conduct a study of the family’s home to determine if it was safe and did not notify guardianship or dependency court of the potential danger at the guardian’s home. (The Department of Children, Youth and Families was created in 2017; previously the Children’s Administration had fallen under the umbrella of the Department of Social and Health Services).

C.G. was sent to live with the guardian although a couple of years earlier, the guardian and her partner hadn’t met the basic qualifications for becoming licensed foster parents, according to the lawsuit. Their application had been rejected in or about 1993 due to several factors, including earlier allegations of inappropriate touching by an adult in the home, threats to kill a biological child, and a history of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

In the decade after she was placed there, C.G. and her siblings “were subjected to horrific physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and drug and alcohol abuse” in that home, according to the lawsuit. C.G.’s siblings are not named as plaintiffs in the case.

In the foster care system, the state would have had to check on the child every 30 days, said Nate Roberts, a lawyer for C.G. But a legal guardianship meant that no one from the state was required to check up on how C.G. was faring under the care of her guardian.

“With the guardianship, once they close their file and turn their back on this little girl, there’s no check or balance,” Roberts said. “It’s a loophole.”

Not only did the state not check on her, it also failed to investigate subsequent reports of abuse and neglect, the lawsuit argued. In 2005, C.G. ended up living with her biological father again, where she experienced additional abuse, eventually fleeing in 2008, according to the lawsuit.

The judge in the case found that the department was negligent for facilitating C.G.’s placement in the guardian’s home, and negligent in how it handled a 1998 report of abuse and neglect in the home. The jury found the department was also negligent in how it handled a 2008 report of abuse, when C.G. was living with her biological father.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families declined to comment Friday.

“We do not provide comment on litigation or the results of litigation,” said DCYF spokesperson Jason Wettstein in an email.