In the State of Delaware, if you are or were abused by a priest or some other non-government employee, you can sue the individual alleged to have perpetrated the abuse, AND you can sue the person’s employer.
However, if your child attends a State of Delaware public school, and your child is abused by a faculty member, you have no recourse to sue the State. To slightly alter a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All employers are equal, just the State is more equal than others.”
Is this a problem? According to The State Council for Persons with Disabilities (SCPD), “since 1999 there have been at least 15 public school teachers and employees in Delaware arrested for the rape and sexual assault of children.” Furthermore, according to the same SCPD memo, “The issue is not unique to Delaware. An Associated Press investigation in 2007 ‘found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.'”
Why would we not provide equal protection to children who go to public schools as we give to those who go to private or parochial schools? Are public school children (many from low-income families) less deserving of our protection?
The Governor and the General Assembly have a chance to tell us what they think by voting on and passing HB 12 sponsored by Rep. Greg Lavelle. HB 12 would level the playing field by permitting children who have been abused to sue the State for damages.
We can also ask the same question about other persons with disabilities. An individual getting developmental services at a non-government organization can sue that organization. However, this same person at a group home run by the State cannot sue for protection.
Is this a problem? Well in 2008, Senator Cathy Cloutier was forced to write the Secretary of Health & Social Services, Vince Meconi, to inquire about a group home under construction in her district because of gross irregularities related to the facilities development and start up. Furthermore, we know that Delaware mimics national trends in abuse in our public schools, so why not group homes.
From a March 12, 2011 NY Times article:
A New York Times investigation over the past year has found widespread problems in the more than 2,000 state-run homes. In hundreds of cases reviewed by The Times, employees who sexually abused, beat or taunted residents were rarely fired, even after repeated offenses, and in many cases, were simply transferred to other group homes run by the state.
And, despite a state law requiring that incidents in which a crime may have been committed be reported to law enforcement, such referrals are rare: State records show that of some 13,000 allegations of abuse in 2009 within state-operated and licensed homes, fewer than 5 percent were referred to law enforcement. The hundreds of files examined by The Times contained shocking examples of abuse of residents with conditions like Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.
The article goes on to describe the repeated transfer of accused workers from facility to facility rather than firing those employees — just like the Catholic church did with priests 20-40 years ago.
Now I have a lot of faith in the current HSS Secretary, Rita Landgraf. A lot of faith. However, in God we trust, all else bring data. And I don’t have any data. But what I know is that there are 53 fewer people processing an increased number of food stamp applications. So what other personnel have had to be cut? Also, we know that prior to Secretary Landgraf, Secretary Meconi was asleep at the switch at the Psychiatric Center (numerous News Journal articles written on this and public hearings were held) and that there were problems with several group homes. How are those situations today? We really don’t know.
Since faith isn’t enough, why not give the residents of group homes the ability to seek justice through the courts just like those at private sector facilities have? Why are residents at Government-run facilities less deserving of protection than those at privately-run facilities?
Again quoting from the SCPD:
SCPD endorses [HB 12] since it would provide public employers with a legal incentive to be vigilant and responsive to evidence of sex abuse of students. Moreover, sex abuse within public settings appears to be a pervasive problem justifying redress if public agencies are determined to have been negligent in protecting students.
According to the New York Times, we can add other persons with disabilities to the “students” mentioned by the SCPD. Remember what the government memo in New York said regarding documenting abuse:
DON’T report in your notes that an Incident Report was filled out. IF IT ISN’T DOCUMENTED, IT WASN’T DONE.
How’s that for trusting government…