A company that places disabled children with foster families put a teenager with a history of sexual abuse in a home, then retaliated against the foster parent when she reported that the youth had molested her grandchild, a lawsuit filed last week alleges.
The case, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, says Missouri Mentor officials knew that the teen had sexually abused children before placing him with the longtime foster parent, but concealed the abuse from her.
“Disabled children deserve the best care and foster parents who are willing to help them,” said Rebecca Randles, the Kansas City attorney who is representing the foster family. “They deserve honesty from any and all officials, private and public, who are involved.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the foster parent, her grandson and the grandson’s mother under the names Jane Doe SMS, John Doe MM and Jane Doe SLM. It names as defendants Missouri Mentor and the director of its Kansas City-area office.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses the defendants of child sexual abuse, negligence, fraud, malpractice, failure to supervise and breach of contract.
Missouri Mentor is part of The Mentor Network, a Boston-based national system of providers that offer community-based services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as behavioral and medically complex challenges.
A Missouri Mentor official issued a statement denying the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Missouri Mentor is committed to providing quality of life enhancing services to the individuals entrusted to our programs,” said Rachel Kramer, the organization’s state director. “We have a track record of success working in partnership with foster parents to provide safe and nurturing homes to the children we serve.”
Kramer said the Missouri Department of Mental Health requires the agency to share comprehensive individual service plans, called ISPs, with its foster parents. It’s also the practice of Missouri Mentor to do so, she said.
“For each child or adolescent, this includes information about his or her past behavior and history as well as supervision requirements,” Kramer said. “Foster parents are required to review those documents and acknowledge in writing the receipt of that information and their understanding of their obligations under the ISP. The case at the center of the reported lawsuit wasn’t any different.”
The lawsuit isn’t the first time allegations of mishandled foster care cases have surfaced involving the Mentor system.
In January, Texas Mentor discontinued its programs for at-risk children in Texas and four other states after it came under intense scrutiny for placing children in homes where they ended up suffering abuse and even death. In one horrific case, a 2-year-old placed in foster care through Texas Mentor died in 2013 after her foster mother slammed her head on the floor of their central Texas home.
In 2011, a foster parent at Last Chance Farm in Maryland was convicted of sexually abusing several teenage boys over more than a decade. The man had signed up through Mentor Maryland to be a foster parent.
In the Jackson County lawsuit, the foster parent, SMS, is described as “a loving and kind woman who always opened up her home to troubled youth in need.” She had provided respite care for people with disabilities for 30 years, it says, and had been a foster mother for children in need for 10 years.
After learning about Missouri Mentor online, the lawsuit says, SMS applied to be a foster care provider and was accepted. The company had a contract with the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Department of Social Services’ Children’s Division for foster care services, according to the lawsuit. Both agencies said they do not comment on pending litigation.
SMS signed up for the Therapeutic Foster Care program, which is for children with complex emotional and behavioral issues. On her application, the lawsuit alleges, SMS specified that she would not provide services to any child who had a history of setting fires or sexual abuse.
In June 2014, a foster child with behavioral and emotional challenges was placed in SMS’ custody, the lawsuit says. The boy, who is referred to in the lawsuit as JV, had an individual service plan, according to the lawsuit.
The plan indicated no signs of aggression or sexual abuse history, the lawsuit alleges.
“As SMS had other young children already in her care, the statements made in JV’s Individualized Service Plan were crucial in SMS’s decision to receive JV into her home,” the lawsuit says.
In November 2014, the plaintiffs were at SMS’ Independence home, and her grandson and JV were playing in the basement, according to the lawsuit. After a few minutes went by without any sounds coming from the basement, someone called out to make sure they were OK. The grandson said that JV had performed a sex act on him, the lawsuit alleges.
SMS immediately contacted Missouri Mentor and had JV removed from her home.
Shortly after the incident, the lawsuit says, Missouri Mentor reported SMS to the state Department of Social Services for failing to keep JV from other children.
The lawsuit says the Department of Social Services conducted an investigation and concluded that all allegations against the foster parent were unsubstantiated and that Missouri Mentor was aware of JV’s prior sexual abuse history but failed to alert SMS or the department.
The lawsuit also alleges that when SMS raised concerns that Missouri Mentor had omitted JV’s sexual abuse history from his individual service plan, the company retaliated by refusing to answer her call about another child in her care who was having heart problems. The agency also refused to place another child in her care, the lawsuit says.
As a result of JV’s conduct and Missouri Mentor’s failure to disclose his previous actions, the plaintiffs suffered emotional distress, lost earnings and counseling expenses, the lawsuit says.
“John Doe MM’s emotional development was upset, causing him to engage in self-destructive and other harmful activities including loss of hope and faith,” it says of the grandson.
It is unclear whether the case was reported to law enforcement authorities. Kramer, the Missouri Mentor state director, said in an email that “as mandated reporters, Missouri Mentor is required to notify the appropriate authorities of suspected abuse or neglect involving those we serve and/or our foster parents.”
“In this case we notified the appropriate agencies: the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Missouri Department of Social Services — by contacting both the Children’s Division guardian of the child in care and the DSS hotline — which involve law enforcement as necessary.”
Both state agencies still have contracts with the Mentor network. A Department of Mental Health spokeswoman said 57 people are receiving contracted services in the Kansas City area through Missouri Mentor at a cost to date of $1.4 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2017. The number includes both Department of Mental Health and Department of Social Services cases.
Randles told The Star that the foster child was in his early teens when he abused SMS’ grandson, who was 3.
“They did not tell her that this child had a history of sexual abuse and had moved from home to home because of the sexual abuse in the other foster homes,” she said. “And they absolutely knew.”
And because the Department of Social Services wasn’t made aware of it, Randles said, the teen didn’t get any help for his problems.
The foster mother and her family are devastated, Randles said.
“She says this was a tragedy on two levels,” Randles said. “She said, ‘My grandson was abused, but also, this kid never got any help.’ ”