Multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by three foster children

Relates to:
Date: 2007-04-28
Source: king5.com

Multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by three foster children

April 28, 2007
SUSANNAH FRAME
KING 5 News

SEATTLE - Three young girls just filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Washington State, saying caseworkers didn't work hard enough to get them out of a foster home where they were allegedly raped, fed drugs, and beaten.

Now, for the first time, we're hearing from the 12-year-old girl, Monica, left behind after the state took her foster sisters out of the home.

She's the most vulnerable of the three girls involved in this horrific case.

Monica, the youngest, is developmentally delayed.

Complaints and warnings about her adoptive father, Enrique Fabregas, span a 10-year period.

But after the older girls got out of his house, it took a year-and-a-half and the Redmond Police Department to get Monica to safety.

Last week, there was a rare reunion for two foster sisters who are now separated after years of alleged abuse in Kirkland and Redmond at the hands of their foster dad, Enrique Fabregas.

They seemed like two normal girls catching up on the latest: clothes, make-up, and Monica's favorite class -- choir.

But these sisters' lives aren't anything close to normal.

Monica was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

She had a drug-addicted mother with a boyfriend - Enrique Fabregas - who worried social workers from the beginning.

As a toddler Child Protective Services recommended Monica be taken from her home, in part, because the boyfriend was a cocaine addict and put Monica in hazardous situations.

The state had evidence, including a videotape of him putting the toddler in dangerous places: a freezer, a washing machine, alongside a busy highway in a cow costume.

David P. Moody, with the law firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, represents Monica and her foster sisters.

"It's appalling," he said. "It's unbelievable why DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) then proceeded two years later to license this man to care for young girls."

Despite a criminal history for drugs, theft, and assault and that strange tape, the state gave Fabregas a foster license to care for Monica, by himself when she was four.

"I think it's just disgusting," said Estera Tamas, Monica's former foster sister, who is now 20 years old. "So, no, they should have never given Monica to him."

Fabregas eventually adopted Monica, and took in two more foster girls: teenagers Estera and Ruth Tamas.

Red flags piled up. KING 5 analyzed 10 years worth of complaints, Department of Social and Health Services reports, and letters written to the state and found roughly 60 separate warnings of abuse or neglect.

Teachers reported that they saw Fabregas kissing Monica like a girlfriend at school. Estera reported that Fabregas had raped and fed her drugs since she was 12.

Ruth reported he slapped and hit her.

But DSHS found no evidence that any of it was true.

Estera and the other teen were finally taken away from Fabregas after he refused to take a sexual deviancy test.

His foster license was revoked.

Yet Monica, the foster child he adopted, stayed behind.

"But even then, they forgot about Monica, and allowed Monica to stay with this pedophile, this sexual victimizer for 16 additional months," Moody said.

In that time, more warnings of abuse came into the state through citizen letters and from Monica herself.

"And we weren't there to see if she was OK or not, so God knows what was happening," Estera said.

When asked why the child remained, DSHS issued this statement:

"Monica continued to deny any concerns and denied any abuse in her home."

The statement goes on to say that Mr. Fabregas was interviewed by Kirkland police and claimed that no abuse had taken place. Police believed him.

This is what finally got Monica to safety: Redmond police confiscated hundreds of photos and videos of child pornography, and obscene images of Fabregas posing in women's lingerie, some with guns.

Police identified him having sex with two of his daughters in the evidence.

Monica's been in a loving foster home in Eastern Washington for a year. She says she feels safe there.

"Because I know they're not going to do anything bad or something," she said. "I know it's like OK to live here and I'll be loved and stuff."

She also says she's ready for normal adventures.

"I would like to go places I've never been before like Silverwood, Disney Land, Wild Waves."

She wants to be a kid.

"Yeah, because I wasn't able to be a kid before," she said.

All the girls are working on healing, getting a piece of that childhood back.

"It seems like our lives changed a lot," Estera said to her sister. "I'm glad that you're doing better."

"I'm glad that you're better too," Monica said.

Monica is now in a safe foster home in Eastern Washington.

Enrique Fabregas is in the King County Jail, awaiting trial on charges of sex crimes.

Complete response to KING 5 from State of Washington Department of Social and Health Services:

This is in response to your question posed to DSHS about the removal of a child from her home following allegations of abuse.

The short answer to your question is that MF was removed from her home by Kirkland Police Department at the request of DSHS and placed in foster care from July 29, 2004 through August 18, 2004 due to allegations that Enrique Fabregas was abusing foster child ET (not MF).

The foster child was removed from the home as well.  Only these two youths were iving with Fabregas at that time. To assist with the investigation, Mr. Fabregas agreed that MF would remain in foster care pending law enforcement and DSHS investigations. MF was returned to her home on August 18, 2004.

Kirkland Police and DSHS investigated allegations of child abuse, including conducting interviews of the children and of Mr. Fabregas to determine if the allegations were true (for criminal purposes) and whether MF was at risk of abuse and/or neglect (for child welfare purposes). No allegations of abuse or neglect were made as to MF by anyone and she denied any concerns at home.

Mr. Fabregas was interviewed by Kirkland Police and claimed that no abuse had taken place. Police believed him. No charges were filed and no search warrant for the Fabregas home was executed - criminal proceedings which DSHS could not control. Since no allegations were made or uncovered in these investigations, the legal basis to permanently remove MF (by initiating a dependency action) was not met.  In our state, to remove a child from his or her home, there must be sufficient facts to meet this burden:

(a) the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody;

(b) an affidavit is filed by the department setting forth specific factual information showing grounds that the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody. At least one of the grounds must demonstrate a risk of imminent harm to the child.

(c) the court finds reasonable grounds to believe the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody (see full text of RCW following close of this letter).

Absent proof of abuse or neglect, MF was returned home. MF continued to deny any concerns, and denied any abuse in her home.  No other information was available to DSHS until 2006 when a referral was received about MF. Police investigated and got a warrant to search the Fabregas home. Child pornography was discovered.  MF was removed. 

This case demonstrates the rare, but grievous, result of one of the greatest challenges in child welfare: how to provide safe homes for children while balancing the legal requirement of producing evidence that a child has been harmed in the home and should be removed.  

Respectfully,

Mike Tornquist

Administrator, Division of Licensed Resources

Department of Social and Health Services

Children’s Administration

Full text of RCW 13.34.050

(1)The court may enter an order directing a law enforcement officer, probation counselor, or child protective services official to take a child into custody if: (a) A petition is filed with the juvenile court alleging that the child is dependent and that the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody; (b) an affidavit or declaration is filed by the department in support of the petition setting forth specific factual information evidencing reasonable grounds that the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody and at least one of the grounds set forth demonstrates a risk of imminent harm to the child. "Imminent harm" for purposes of this section shall include, but not be limited to, circumstances of sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation as defined in RCW 26.44.020; and (c) the court finds reasonable grounds to believe the child is dependent and that the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody.

(2)Any petition that does not have the necessary affidavit or declaration demonstrating a risk of imminent harm requires that the parents are provided notice and an opportunity to be heard before the order may be entered.

(3)The petition and supporting documentation must be served on the parent, and if the child is in custody at the time the child is removed, on the entity with custody other than the parent. Failure to effect service does not invalidate the petition if service was attempted and the parent could not be found

RCW 26.44.050 states in relevant part “Upon the receipt of a report concerning the possible occurrence of abuse or neglect, the law enforcement agency or the department of social and health services must investigate and provide the protective services section with a report… A law enforcement officer may take, or cause to be taken, a child into custody without a court order if there is probable cause to believe that the child is abused or neglected and that the child would be injured or could not be taken into custody if it were necessary to first obtain a court order pursuant to RCW 13.34.050….”

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