$10 Million Settlement on Behalf of Child Abused in Foster Care
Michelle A. Parfitt and Sidney Schupak, partners in Ashcraft & Gerel’s Alexandria office, successfully negotiated a $10 million dollar settlement from the District of Columbia on behalf of a young boy abused by his foster mother.
Rafael Pearson was only a few days old when he was placed in the foster home of Tanya Jenkins. Less than six weeks later he was brought to the hospital, where it was discovered that Jenkins had beaten and shaken him so severely that he suffered devastating brain damage. He spent several days on life support, and was not expected to live. Miraculously, he survived. Now seven years old, he remains profoundly disabled and will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life.
The evidence gathered in this case made clear that Rafael should never have been placed in Jenkins’ home.
At the time of his placement, Jenkins was unemployed and living with her two-year-old son and boyfriend. Earlier that year she had sent another infant back to the District’s Child and Family Services Administration (CFSA), complaining that it was too difficult to care for her. She made it clear to her case worker that, due to her present life circumstances, she was not able to care for a baby.
In spite of this warning, CFSA placed Rafael in her home. According to evidence discovered during the case, after the placement, Jenkins contacted CFSA to return Rafael claiming she was overwhelmed with caring for him. She was reportedly told that she could not return him prior to 30 days. Unfortunately, during that time period Rafael was abused so severely he nearly died.
Evidence also revealed that CFSA had failed in their duty to safeguard Rafael in other ways as well. Regulations applicable during that time period required that a social worker visit weekly during the first eight weeks a child is placed in a new foster home. CFSA made only one visit to the Jenkins home during the six weeks Rafael was there. Had all the required visits been made, the abuse would very likely have been prevented.
Overcoming enormous odds, Rafael survived his ordeal and now lives with his sister and grandmother, bringing joy to their lives everyday. His courage and determination serve as an inspiration to all who know him, and as a reminder that we must continue to fight for the rights of those who are unable to fight for themselves.
The terms of the settlement provided for payments to be made over three years to be put into trust for the benefit and future care of Rafael. The last of such payments was made in October 2012.
Sadly, this case is not an isolated event. It highlights the failure on the part of the District of Columbia to properly care for and safeguard children placed within its foster care system. Indeed, over the last 25 years, such failure has been the basis of a class action lawsuit and ongoing court supervision.
Ashcraft & Gerel is committed to advocating for the rights of these children and looks forward to working with the District of Columbia towards implementing necessary reforms to ensure that this does not happen again.