Crime & Courts

Lawsuit alleges teen was sexually assaulted by a DSS contractor while in foster care

A 17-year-old with special needs was sexually assaulted by an employee of a foster-care services provider that contracts with the state’s child welfare agency, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this month.

The complaint, filed this month in a U.S. District court, alleges that the teen, now 18, was sexually assaulted in March 2016 by a driver with the S.C. Youth Advocate Program. The driver, the lawsuit alleges, was taking the boy from Greenwood, where he was visiting his family, back to the Columbia-area foster home he was living in at the time.

The teenager was the driver’s only passenger when the assault occurred, said the boy’s attorney, Heather Hite Stone of Abbeville, in a news release.

According to the release, the complaint alleges that “Instead of taking the boy straight back to his foster home, the driver took the boy to the driver’s own home. There, the driver sexually assaulted the boy.”

Once home, the teen told his mother about the assault, and she took him to the hospital, the release said.

When law enforcement questioned the driver, the driver admitted to having oral sex with the teen, but said it was consensual, according to the release.

The suit names the boy’s Social Services caseworker, the S.C. Youth Advocate Program and two of its employees as defendants in the case.

A representative with the S.C. Youth Advocate Program, who declined to give her name, said the organization has no comment at this time.

“The Department of Social Services has not yet been served with the complaint in this case,” said Chrysti Shain, a Social Services spokesperson. “After we receive the complaint, we will evaluate the case and respond appropriately.”

Shain added, “Our contract with the S.C. Youth Advocate Program requires criminal background checks on all individuals who interact with children in our care. Those checks include the sexual offender registry and the child abuse central registry.”

The S.C. Youth Advocate Program has been paid $85,755 in public money through Social Services so far this fiscal year which started in July, according to a database maintained by the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office.

The child-placing agency, which provides foster care services, gets referrals from several state agencies, including Mental Health, Juvenile Justice and Disabilities and Special Needs, according to the organization’s website.

Last year, S.C. Youth Advocate Program was paid $361,515 in public money through Social Services, down from the $2.6 million it was paid in 2013-2014, records show.

The lawsuit also alleges that Social Services failed to adequately treat the child for sexual assault and did not provide the teenager with sufficient counseling services, the release said.

“Special needs foster children are perhaps the most vulnerable population in our society, and it is shocking and horrific when individuals and agencies who are charged with protecting our most vulnerable citizens violate this sacred trust,” Stone said.

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter