Former Oregon foster child sues Department of Human Services

Lawsuit alleges the agency neglected the child with placements in foster homes with sexual and physical abuse

By: - August 28, 2023 3:23 pm

A former foster child is suing the Oregon Department of Human Services, alleging the agency failed to protect her from abuse. (Michael Romanos/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A woman who spent 16 years of her childhood in the state’s foster care system is suing the Oregon Department of Human Services, alleging the agency placed her in foster homes where she suffered abuse and failed to protect her when they knew.

The woman filed the $14.9 million lawsuit earlier this month in Multnomah County Circuit Court against the agency, which has not yet filed a response. In 1998, as a 7-month old baby, she entered the foster care system because her parents had addiction problems, court records show. For the next 16 years, she was shuffled among different foster homes and state-run residential programs, where she faced physical, sexual and emotional abuse, according to the lawsuit.

“DHS made no effort to intervene at various times to protect plaintiff by removing plaintiff from such abuse and, in fact, continued to place the plaintiff into foster homes where this abuse continued throughout a significant portion of the time plaintiff was under the care, custody and control of the Defendant, DHS,” the complaint states.

The Capital Chronicle is not naming her as a victim of sexual abuse.  

A spokesperson for the agency declined to comment on the lawsuit.

It’s the latest child welfare-related lawsuit to hit the state agency, which also faces a separate federal class-action complaint over its placement of children in hotel rooms for extended lengths. A federal judge in July ordered the appointment of a special master, essentially an outside expert, to recommend to the court how to end the practice, Oregon Public Broadcasting has reported.

In this case, some of the details are murky because – as the lawsuit points out – the state agency would not give her complete records about her time in the state system and instead blacked out information about the foster parents and homes.

“Because defendant has refused to provide unredacted records regarding plaintiff’s placements, plaintiff is unable to determine the identity of the abusers and homes where this abuse occurred,” the lawsuit states. “During this 16-year time period, as referenced in DHS’s own heavily redacted case file, DHS became aware that plaintiff was being physically, sexually and mentally abused.”

The lawsuit includes a redacted therapist’s note, which acknowledges the girl and her siblings were moved from a foster home over concerns about harm and sexual abuse in the home. At the time, the plaintiff was 6 years old.

The lawsuit alleges the agency was negligent and failed to properly monitor and screen foster parents. 

Due to the trauma involved, the woman needs access to her complete unredacted agency records to identify her abusers and understand the extent of the injuries, the lawsuit states.

Due to the abuse, she also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other conditions that decrease her quality of life years later, the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit seeks $14.9 million in damages, including past and future medical expenses, the loss of future income and noneconomic damages.

The lawsuit asks for a jury to determine that final award amount.


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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from the Midwest to Idaho for his first journalism job. Botkin has won multiple awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.