The foster care system is systemically flawed, according to a child sex abuse survivor and her attorneys who recently filed a lawsuit against Schenectady County, the Office of Family and Children Services and 10 unnamed individuals.
The case, filed under the Child Victim’s Act, is one of two recently filed cases concerning similar incidents that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, according to County Attorney Christopher Gardner. Documents for that case were not immediately available.
“The failings of New York State foster care system are systematic with thousands of victims,” said attorney Scott Duquin, of Herman Law. “As we allege in Liz’s case the failings of the system allowed her to be sexually abused after she said she was being sexually abused. The results of childhood sex abuse are devastating to the victims.”
Herman Law, which specializes in cases of sex abuse, filed a lawsuit against the county on March 4 on behalf of Elizabeth Mary Mills. Mills, now 30, alleges in court documents that when she was around 4-or-5-years-old she was sexually abused by the boyfriend of her foster mother, Karen Johnston, at least three to five times between 1985 and 1986 in the playroom of the house. Mills said she does not remember the boyfriend’s name.
The foster mother’s boyfriend allegedly touched and fondled Mills’ genitals, digitally penetrated her vagina and rubbed his penis on her, according to court documents.
The boyfriend was older than 18.
“I told the case worker several times about the abuse,” said Mills, who is still a Schenectady County resident.
She said nothing was done by caseworker Charlene Chrisfoley. Efforts to locate Chrisfoley were unsuccessful.
“The system is flawed,” she said.
Mills said she has never forgotten what happened to her.
“I don’t trust anyone,” Mills said.
She also said she hasn’t had meaningful relationships with people, she didn’t earn her high school diploma or GED and is on disability.
“I want the county to know that they really screwed me up,” she said.
She also said that it’s not all case workers who are bad. She said some case workers really do care about the children in the foster care system, but there are others that just seem like they’re there to get a paycheck every day.
Mills said she tried to bring the incident forward in her 20s, but was told the statute of limitations had expired. The extension of the Child’s Victim Act is allowing her to share her story now, Duquin said.
Mills said she was removed from that foster home and placed in another when she was 5 years old. She continued to live in the foster care system, including being placed in a number of foster care homes and institutions, until she was an adult. Gardner wouldn’t comment on why she was eventually taken out of that foster home she had been abused in.
“We can say that we’re not sure that the placement where the abuse was alleged was done through the county, so it might have been a private placement through a not-for-profit, so we’re not even sure we’ll be involved in this case at all,” Gardner said.
Mills said she wants others in foster care to know that if something like this is happening to them they should speak out about it.
Gardner said the county has not been served with the case yet.
“We are going into storage and looking for records of the case,” he said.
Gardner said Chrisfoley worked for the county from October 1972 to August 2004 before retiring. In 1986 she was promoted to senior case worker.
“She had a good long career,” he said.
Gardner said the foster care system is regulated by the state. Potential foster parents are now vetted by having their fingerprints run to determine if they have committed a crime. He said the person’s name is also checked through the Justice Center, which tracks anyone who has been abusive or neglectful of children or the elderly. Prospective foster parents must also complete an 11 week program called Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting. Other requirements to become a foster parent are listed on the web site of the Office of Family and Children Services.
During COVID Gardner said case workers visit foster homes weekly in some instances. If the case is open the case worker visits at least every two weeks and “on a long-term basis they’re there at least once per month.”