Foster child sexually abused on state’s watch wins $1.3M settlement

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A former foster child abused in three state-licensed foster homes after Washington child services workers took her from her drug-addicted mother has won a $1.3 million settlement with the state.

Suing the state last April, attorneys for the young woman claimed she was sexually assaulted at three foster homes after she was pulled from her mother’s care as a young child. Two of her former foster fathers have since been convicted of child molestation, as has one of her foster brothers.

Now, the state has agreed to pay the young woman and her attorneys $1.3 million in compensation for the damage done to her on the Department of Social and Health Services’ watch.

“Nothing was ever done to remotely ascertain if this child was in a safe home,” the woman’s attorneys said in a statement. She was represented by Vito de la Cruz, Bryan Smith and Sergio Garcidueñas-Sease of Tamaki Law Offices.

“Our client will finally have an opportunity for a safe and stable life, a life she always deserved,” Garcidueñas-Sease continued. “She endured pain that no one should ever endure, especially a foster child.”

A spokeswoman for the department’s Children’s Administration acknowledged that DSHS agreed to settle what she described as “a 10-year-old child abuse case.”

“Our intent is that the plaintiff … is able to use the settlement funds for any mental health treatment she may need stemming from the trauma she suffered at the hands of her perpetrators,” the spokeswoman said.

DSHS leaders did not apologize for the abuse the young woman, among others, suffered at the homes.

Born to drug-addicted, mentally ill parents, the girl became a ward of the state at age 4. DSHS reports from her time before foster care indicate she was living in a filthy home. One investigator found a kitchen sink filled with moldy dishes and a bed with a dead mouse on it.

She was first placed with Jose Miranda and his wife, Juanita. Jose Miranda would later become infamous for the sexual abuse he perpetrated on children during the nine years he was a foster father.

The Mirandas were licensed as foster parents even though Juanita Miranda’s own children had been taken from her while she was living in California. Having been convicted of crimes in Washington, Oregon and California, Juanita Miranda also tested positive for opiates while she was pregnant six years before the girl was placed with the couple.

According to the lawsuit, Juanita Miranda was under Department of Corrections supervision for a felony theft when she and her husband were approved as foster parents. Both lied to DSHS on questionnaires meant to prevent convicts, addicts and people too sick to care for children from becoming foster parents.

Speaking after the lawsuit was filed, a DSHS spokesman said foster parents now undergo an extensive background check. A history of criminal convictions or problematic court orders – such as losing custody of one’s children – prompts a second level of scrutiny by department leaders, who are unlikely to approve applicants with less than sterling records.

Attorneys for the young woman disputed the claim and argued that more must be done to protect Washington foster children.

“This case highlights a great need for change in a state foster system that is intrinsically broken,” Garcidueñas-Sease said.

The girl was placed with the Mirandas in March 1998. By May, the state was investigating problems with her care, and she was removed from the home that June.

During her three months in the home, Jose Miranda molested the girl, forced her to shower with him and made her wipe his behind when he soiled himself.

Six years passed before reports of sexual abuse at the home prompted an investigation that ultimately saw Jose Miranda convicted of child molestation and related crimes. Rather than prison, though, he received a suspended sentence.

Two years after his guilty plea, investigators learned Miranda had molested two other boys. He was then charged, convicted and sentenced to more than a decade in prison. He has since died, as has his wife.

The state paid $11 million to settle an earlier lawsuit brought by six children placed in the Miranda home. The allegations mirrored those brought in the young woman’s suit.

Release from the Mirandas’ care provided little respite for the girl, who was placed with a couple who had been allowed to maintain their foster-parent license despite numerous reports of abuse at the home. Having been certified in 1993, the couple’s license was revoked months after the girl left there in late 1998.

In their care, the girl was beaten and sexually assaulted, according to the lawsuit. Her attorneys do not contend the couple was behind the sexual abuse, though they note the state received numerous reports of sexual behavior by other foster children at the home.

From there, the girl was passed to the Rosenfelts, a Pierce County couple. It was in their home that she was sexually assaulted by both her adoptive father, Lavern Rosenfelt, and his son, Travis.

“The state did what it had repeatedly done to (her) throughout her life – betray her,” de la Cruz said in a statement.

The abuse was first reported to authorities in early 2007 after the girl, then 13, went to a school counselor with allegations of sexual assault. Investigators later learned her adoptive mother had been aware of the sexual abuse for years but did nothing to stop it.

Lavern Rosenfelt was charged with child molestation in June 2007 and was prohibited from having contact with the girl. Nonetheless, the girl’s adoptive mother allowed him to visit daily and eat dinner with the family. The woman later wrote letters to the Pierce County Superior Court judge who sentenced her husband, urging that he be spared prison.

For his part, Rosenfelt described himself as the girl’s “papa,” and placed blame on the girl, saying she suggested that he walk around nude in front of his adolescent adopted children. While he ultimately pleaded guilty, court records show he continued to defend his behavior even after admitting to the molestations.

In the end, despite his apparent shortage of remorse, Lavern Rosenfelt avoided prison time. Then 19, Travis Rosenfelt was also spared prison after pleading guilty to assault charges. Interviewed by court staff, he denied any wrongdoing; the interviewer described him as being in “complete denial” and without empathy for his victims.

Lavern Rosenfelt has since died, while his son lives in Enumclaw.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle approved the settlement on March 5. The lawsuit is expected to be dismissed in the coming weeks.

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