MIAMI
10/03/2013 04:29 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Florida Department Of Children And Families On Trial Over Sexual Assault By Foster Child

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When the 10-year-old foster child arrived in late summer 2002, he came with tremendous baggage: Sexually molested as a toddler; raised in poverty and around drugs; and repeatedly raped by an older neighborhood boy described as a "sexual deviant."

This foster child also had a violent history of suicide attempts and self-mutilations, attacks on relatives, drowning a kitten in a bathtub, setting numerous fires and sexual assaults on girls as young as 3.

What happened next forms the basis of a civil lawsuit filed by the foster family in 2006 -- and described Wednesday for a jury at the opening of a trial in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

The foster parents claim two social service agencies failed to warn them of their new foster child's horrific past, and are liable for the child's 2003 sexual assault on their natural son, who was 9 at the time and sharing a bedroom with the boy they say was "so horribly damaged."

They are seeking still-unspecified damages against the state Department of Children and Families, which placed the child in their home, and Camelot Community Care, a nonprofit child welfare group hired by DCF to help oversee the foster child's case before, and for a short time after, he began living with the plaintiffs.

A third defendant, Girls and Boys Town of South Florida, reached a confidential settlement with the plaintiffs before the trial. The foster mother died of cancer in 2006, and the foster father has carried on with the litigation.

DCF and Camelot deny negligence and have shifted blame and responsibility to the foster parents. The plaintiffs argue their biological son suffered permanent psychological damage from the attack and requires a lifetime of care for worsening depression.

The Sun Sentinel is not identifying the plaintiffs and the foster child because of the ages of the alleged victim and the foster child and the nature of the incidents.

"This case is about the sexual and psychological abuse of a 9-year-old boy," Stephan Le Clainche, the plaintiffs' attorney said during his opening statement to six jurors and two alternates. "[The defendants] knew the harm was both predictable and preventable."

The foster parents had specifically requested the foster boy, because they knew him from their neighborhood and he was friendly with their son, and they wanted to show him a loving environment, Le Clainche said.

But they weren't told that DCF and Camelot caseworkers were aware the foster child was "sexually aggressive" and belonged in a locked residential treatment center, the attorney said, adding the foster parents had no experience in handling such a troubled child.

"If you do not provide this vital information, bad things are likely to happen," Le Clainche said.

In summer 2003, the foster child sexually assaulted the foster parents' biological son at a cousin's house, an incident that remained unknown until two years later, prompting the permanent removal of the foster child, Le Clainche said.

But Hector Buigas, attorney for Camelot, said the foster family had total knowledge of the foster child's history and need for three psychiatric medications.

"They knew he was psychotic," Buigas said, adding that the family refused to implement safeguards in their home and fired Camelot in early 2003. He also said the natural son's psychological problems started years before the foster child moved in.

Jason Trauth, attorney for DCF, declined to give an opening statement.

But in court papers filed in March, DCF's attorneys denied all of the allegations and listed nine reasons why DCF isn't liable.

Among the defenses: the plaintiffs repeatedly ignored safety steps and had full knowledge of the foster child's "history of sexual and physical abuse and his perpetration of improper sexual acts."

The trial before Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser is expected to run for four weeks.

mjfreeman@tribune.com, 561-243-6642 or Twitter @SSCourts ___