Lawyers for 11 young children who reportedly suffered sexual abuse at a Salem, Ore., foster home have filed nearly $23 million in lawsuits against the state's Department of Human Services.
The lawsuits represent one of the most sweeping cases brought against the state child-welfare agency over abuse by one foster parent, The Oregonian reported (http://is.gd/dibMku).
An agency spokesman referred questions to the Oregon Department of Justice, which declined comment Monday.
James Earl Mooney was sentenced last year to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree sodomy. His wife wasn't charged with any wrongdoing. The couple has divorced.
The newspaper says 50 babies and toddlers lived in the foster home from 2007 to 2011.
"The notion that these kind of crimes can occur serially in a home where the state pays to house children is a tragedy beyond measure," said David Paul, a Portland lawyer who filed suit on behalf of one child, now 5.
Lawyer Steve Rizzo filed two suits Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court and U.S. District Court on behalf of 10 foster children.
In those lawsuits, Rizzo says Mooney and his wife were 22-year-old newlyweds and didn't have children when DHS approved them as foster parents. Their application, background checks, home study and training took less than two months, the lawsuits contend.
Rizzo's filings accuse agency employees of allegedly ignoring escalating signs of abuse from the children _ including complaints of pain, redness on their buttocks and unusual behavior, such as smearing feces on walls.
The molestations came to light in April 2011, the newspaper reports, after one of the foster children moved from the home and told a prospective adoptive parent that Mooney had sexually abused her in the shower.
DHS spokesman Gene Evans said he couldn't discuss specifics, but did talk about department policies that allowed Mooney and his wife to become foster parents.
People as young as 21 _ newlyweds, cohabitating couples or single people, regardless of whether they have children _ can apply to be foster parents of children who aren't relatives, Evans said.
In 2007, a supervisor would have been required to OK a screener's decision to approve the applicants, but not necessarily in writing. In 2010, the department began requiring supervisors to commit their signatures to paper. The agency also gave supervisors more training, Evans said.
The agency also does a better job of sharing information among caseworkers who supervise children in the same home, Evans said. Now anytime a report of abuse is made against a foster parent, all involved caseworkers are automatically alerted.