Philadelphia: Foster Care Sex Abuse "Nightmare" Subject of Lawsuit

Most of the girls that I deal with have been raped and molested in the foster homes that they were in.

– Independent Child Advocate, Sharon McGinley

Philadelphia’s foster care system is in the headlines – again.


In a previous case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit wrote in a 1994 decision: “It is a matter of common knowledge (and it is not disputed here) that in recent years the system run by DHS and overseen by DPW has repeatedly failed to fulfill its mandates, and unfortunately has often jeopardized the welfare of the children in its care.”

The original complaint, filed by the Children’s Rights Project of the ACLU (now Children’s Rights, Inc.) on April 4, 1990, alleged that systemic deficiencies prevented the department from performing needed services, and that it consistently violated the due process rights of both parents and children:

    Specifically, plaintiffs claim that these amendments confer the right not to be deprived of a family relationship; the right not to be harmed while in state custody; the right to placement in the least restrictive, most appropriate placement; the right to medical and psychiatric treatment; the right to care consistent with competent professional judgment; and the right not to be deprived of liberty or property interests without due process of law.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit was “Tara M.” on whose behalf the ACLU charged the city of Philadelphia with neglect. Human Services Commissioner Joan Reeves guaranteed the young girl an adoptive home with specially trained parents.

In August of 1996, Tara M. made the headlines once again, as her new foster parents were sentenced for “one of the most appalling cases of child abuse” Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn E. Temin said she had ever heard.

Nine-year-old Tara had three skin grafts and wore a protective stocking while in recovery from burns over more than half her body. Police said the foster parents punished the girl by stripping her, forcing her into the bathtub and dousing her with buckets of scalding water.

It came to light during a later legal proceeding that after having been sexually abused in some foster homes, she was moved to one in which her foster parents allegedly “inserted chili peppers, vinegar, and Vicks Vaporub into Tara’s vagina; punctured her back with a knife; beat her in the face with an electric cord; and scalded her with burning water, causing second and third degree burns over sixty percent of her body.”

This was the very best of care that the city of Philadelphia could provide for Tara, a girl who had already endured years of physical and sexual abuse in the several foster homes into which she had been placed over the years.


“Foster care nightmare subject of lawsuit,” blares the headline of an ABC-affiliated Action News special report issued on February 11, 2011.

“A shocking case of alleged abuse within the Philadelphia foster care system in Philadelphia is the subject of a lawsuit,” the report explains.

“The lawsuit reads like a horror story. A little girl allegedly raped repeatedly in her foster home by a teenage boy who shouldn’t have been there.”

That boy was the foster mother’s son, whose presence in the home had been concealed by the foster mom. The young girl was allegedly raped repeatedly by the boy over a span of 10 months.

The victim is 11-years-old now, and she’d been placed in a foster home in the city’s Mayfair section when she was 8.

The girl, called “Renee” to protect her true identity, was placed in the foster home by Concilio, a private social services agency that operates under a contract with the city’s Department of Human Services.

Neither Concilio nor the Department of Human Services would talk to reporters about the case.


“Unfortunately, Renee’s allegation isn’t unusual,” the report explains.

“Most of the girls that I deal with have been raped and molested in the foster homes that they were in,” said Independent Child Advocate, Sharon McGinley.

McGinley – an independent advocate for kids aging out of foster care – says the system is broken, and that the people on the front lines are afraid that change would jeopardize their federal funding.

“If they make a big stink about something, if they speak like I am, they’re afraid they won’t be getting the kids who give them the money to keep the organization going,” said McGinley.

Renee’s lawsuit claims that the Defenders Association failed her in its role as her legal advocate, and that Concilio failed to properly investigate the foster home before placing her there.

In a previous blog entry, I’d referenced foster care as a sexual abuse laboratory experiment. I continue to stand by my observation. To borrow once again from the 2008-2009 Sacramento County Grand Jury report, when it comes to foster care: “Nothing Ever Changes – Ever.”