Oregon’s Department of Human Services has just settled for a hefty $7 million to resolve a case of abuse and neglect against two preschool-aged children in foster care. State-appointed foster parents in Yamhill County nearly starved the siblings to death before turning the kids over to their aunt after announcing they could no longer care for them. A string of neglect from foster parents, caseworkers, doctors, and other government workers left the children helpless in a dangerous home. Although they have won one of the largest settlements issued by the state, they will face a lifetime of consequences tied to the abuse they endured.

Extreme Starvation Scars Young Lives

The lawsuit brought forth against the state for the extreme negligence with which they treated the young brother-sister duo alleged they were so extremely starved by Mr. and Mrs. Yates that they weighed the same at ages 4 and 5 that they did when they were taken in by them at 1 and 2. The starvation was so dire, the lawsuit alleges, the children looked like they had survived famine, and had protruding bellies, visible ribs, and delayed brain development. The boy could barely support himself to walk, while the girl had regressed to needing diapers to go to the bathroom after she arrived potty trained. Doctors at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, where the children stayed for 8 days, said that both of them could have died had the starvation continued for much longer.

The lawsuit states that DHS caseworkers, their supervisors, and managers, repeatedly ignored critical signs of abuse that occurred over the two and a half years the children were under the Yates’s care. They also ignored repeated complaints the couple had against them regarding other children in their care before entrusting them with caring for these siblings. Despite continued in-person contact, caseworkers took no action to address the abuse or have the children removed from the home.

One caseworker even wrote that although the girl was below average height for a five-year-old, her appearance “raised no concerns.” She also noted that the boy met the average height and weight for his age, even though he was so severely malnourished that his height and weight did not register on the charts for his age group. This sounds appalling considering that at the time the two were hospitalized, the boy, age 4, weighed just 27 pounds — a normal weight for a boy turning 2; while the girl, age 5, weighed 30 pounds, which is standard for a girl between 2.5 and 3 years old.

According to the Yates’s defense lawyers, the children’s condition was never hidden from any responsible party; several doctors and nutritionists at the Women, Infants, and Children program saw the siblings over a dozen times during the time they were abused and starved, yet none reported the abuse as required by law. All too often, these doctors along with caseworkers took Mrs. Yates’s word when she blamed underlying medical conditions like fetal alcohol syndrome for the children’s lack of growth. Eventually, the children were seen by a doctor at Randall’s Children’s Hospital who rightfully determined that the root cause of their severe growth issues was chronic starvation, less than a month from a caseworker visit.

Where is the Justice?

Several state employees interacted with the children during the two and a half years they lived with the Yateses. DHS workers, federal nutrition experts, and police officers al saw the children before they were rushed to the hospital after being surrendered to their aunt, yet none showed concern for their well-being up to that point, believing the many excuses Mrs. Yates offered about why the children didn’t grow. The Yateses faced felony charges for the abuse. They were charged with two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment before accepting a plea deal, which greatly reduced the sentence they could have faced had the case gone to trial. As a result of the plea deal, they face just 30 months in prison for abuse that will affect the children for the rest of their lives. They will also no longer be able to care for children while they are on probation.

Oregon awarded the siblings $3.5 million each to help them with long-term physical and mental health expenses. Though they have quickly gained weight, they have much growth to catch up on as the neglect occurred during a critical stage of development. It is possible they will develop musculoskeletal disorders and require extensive counseling to address psychological issues regarding trust and food hoarding.

In addition, Clyde Saiki, the former director of DHS, fired the agency’s top two child welfare managers soon after the lawsuit’s filing. Saiki himself retired less than 2 years after accepting his post.

Oregon Pays Big Bucks, yet Abuse Continues

The $7 million-dollar settlement, a significant reduction from the $60 million originally sought, is among the highest payouts the state has issued for wrongdoing on their part. It is second to another case of extreme child abuse by a foster parent that was settled for $15 million. Despite these mega-lawsuits, children continue to suffer at the hands of overworked and perhaps incompetent social workers and their superiors. It is at least the third time since 2004 that young children placed in Oregon’s foster care system suffer from life-threatening starvation.

Families who have been hurt by the state’s Department of Human Services may have options to seek justice. Learn more about issues impacting safety, well-being, and justice at rizklaw.com. To schedule a confidential appointment to discuss a claim with an attorney, call (503) 245-5677 or email info@rizklaw.com.