Washington state this week agreed to pay $2 million to settle a case that alleged negligence in a foster care placement in which a girl claimed the state ignored her complaint of sexual abuse at the home for years.
The lawsuit, filed in rural Benton County in 2018, alleged the state never should have placed 3-year-old “V.O.” in the home in 1995 because a different foster child had previously claimed she had been abused by foster father Abel Ortega.
When she turned 12 in 2004, V.O. told officials for the first time that Ortega was raping her, but she was not removed from the house, the suit alleges. She only got away in 2009 when she went to the police to again report the alleged sexual molestation and rape.
For 14 years, the suit alleges, the state did nothing about ongoing reports against Ortega, not only from V.O., but others, too, according to the suit filed by Kennewick attorney Jeff Kreutz.
“As a parent who has personal involvement with the foster care system, I was shocked to learn that the state did not remove V.O. from the Ortega’s home after not just one complaint of physical and sexual abuse, but years of complaints,” Kreutz said, according to NBC affiliate KNDO in Yakima. “The state had the responsibility to remove V.O. from the Ortega’s home, but its failure to do so led to years of horrendous abuse.”
V.O. agreed to settle because she has spent years working through the trauma and did not want to have to relive her experience on the stand,” the lawyer said. “Hopefully this settlement sends a loud and clear message to the state that it must protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
Washington has seen the number of youth in its foster care system plummet in recent years, from a peak of 11,355 in 2017 down to 7,982 as of March 31, according to figures shared with The Imprint by the state for our Who Cares project.