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What to Do If I Was Sexually Abused in Foster Care: Exploring Your Legal Options

By January 17, 2019January 29th, 2020Blog
sexual abuse in foster care, sexually abused in foster care
This post was written before the passage of AB-218. For information regarding the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual assault/abuse, click here or contact our team of experienced representatives.


Foster care agencies are designed to be a safe haven for children who were otherwise abused, neglected, or abandoned. When a child is placed in foster care, they are placed in the care of trusted adults until they are either adopted or age out of the system. Though background checks are conducted and safeguards put in place, the system is not always perfect. Of the 60,000 minors placed into foster care in California from 2013 to 2015, there were 6,200 claims of abuse investigated by the state agency.

Often times, children are unable to comprehend what is happening when adult caregivers violate their trust, or they may fear reprisal if they speak up. Sexual abuse attorneys consult with adults who are looking to pursue justice for abuse suffered as children in the foster care system. Depending on your situation, liability may extend beyond the individual perpetrator to the agency entrusted with placement and supervision. If you or a loved one was sexually abused in foster care, you deserve to explore your legal options.

Pursuing Justice for Sexual Abuse in Foster Care

There are two ways to seek justice for sexual abuse that occurred while you were in foster care. First, you can contact your local District Attorney’s office to seek representation. Depending on the evidence, the perpetrator will be arrested on charges of sexual abuse, settlement talks or a trial by jury will ensue, and a successful resolution may mean the perpetrator is behind bars, fined by the state, sanctioned with probation or other limitations to freedom, given a criminal record, and placed on a sex offender registry.

Another option is to file a civil lawsuit with the help of a skilled sexual abuse attorney. If successful, you could receive financial compensation to cover past, present, and future medical expenses and therapies; past and future loss of income; and additional money for the emotional pain and suffering you’ve endured.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Sexual Abuse in Foster Care?

Another benefit to filing a civil lawsuit is that accountability extends beyond the actual perpetrator of abuse. In a criminal case, you can only press charges against the perpetrator for a violation of the California Welfare and Institutions Code § 16001.9, which states that children have a right to live in a “safe, healthy, and comfortable home where he or she is treated with respect” and “free from physical, sexual, emotional, or other abuse, or corporal punishment.”

In a civil lawsuit, multiple parties can be held liable, including the foster care agency. Lawsuits can be pursued under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for the deprivation of your rights. You must be able to prove the agency displayed a “deliberate indifference” to your risk of harm. You may have strong grounds to sue the foster care agency by demonstrating they failed to:

  • Conduct a sufficient criminal background check prior to placement
  • Adhere to company protocol for supervising placements
  • Follow-up on known complaints or police reports
  • Take protective action after learning of repeated violations
  • Abide by state laws governing the welfare of foster children

Proving deliberate indifference is a fairly strict standard of liability, and certain defendants—notably foster care agency staff members and administrators—may try to claim discretionary immunity if the agency is run by a government program, arguing that they did what was legal or reasonable at the time. Working with an experienced team of attorneys will ensure that your case is fought with determination.

Can Adults Sue for Being Sexually Abused in Foster Care?

Child sexual abuse cases often take years to come to light. Regardless of the reasons for waiting to report sexual abuse that occurred while in foster care, California allows adult sexual abuse survivors the ability to sue.

The statute of limitations laws are complex, so it’s recommended that you speak with a qualified attorney in person to explore your options. Section 340.1 of the Civil Code sets the legal deadline for filing civil charges of child sex abuse to “within eight years of the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority (age 26) or within three years of the date the plaintiff discovers that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by sexual abuse, whichever occurs later.” The civil code also provides for a delayed discovery period of three years. This means that your lawsuit will be timely if it is filed within three years after the date you discover the connection between your injuries and the abuse itself. There are other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may be available as well depending on the particular circumstances of your case.   

In one noteworthy case, an ex-foster child successfully sued his foster parent and his foster care agency for abuse endured over a five-year period in the 1990s. The foster parent had been allowed to take in multiple children, despite criminal records of child molestation, physical abuse, drug use, and drunk driving. He was convicted on nine counts of “lewd or lascivious acts on a child by force, violence, duress, menace, and fear” and given a 220-year prison sentence. The private foster care agency was deemed 75% liable for awarding the man a foster license without proper vetting and monitoring. In 2010, the 25-year-old plaintiff was awarded $30 million in damages.

Let an Experienced Attorney Fight for You

Here at Lewis & Llewellyn, we have a long track record of helping adult sexual abuse survivors overcome legal challenges and pursue compensation in civil court. In addition to providing assistance with civil lawsuits, we work closely with the District Attorney’s office and local law enforcement when you are simultaneously pursuing criminal charges.

As a firm, we have chosen to focus our litigation expertise on a cause that we each feel deeply connected to on a personal level—ending the epidemic of sexual abuse in America. By providing the same aggressive and exhaustive representation to sexual abuse survivors that we provide to our Fortune 100 commercial clients, we have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of our sexual abuse clients, and in the process, driven changes at institutions throughout the country that will help protect our children from sexual abuse.

At Lewis & Llewellyn, we understand what is required to prevail in a civil lawsuit against a powerful and well-funded institution such as a foster care agency. All of our lawyers come from the nation’s top law schools and have years of experience litigating high-profile cases at some of the world’s most respected law firms. Simply put, we are not just another run-of-the-mill personal injury law firm that also handles automobile accidents or slip and fall cases. We are a high-powered civil litigation boutique that routinely represents some of the most prestigious and successful companies in the world.

The civil attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn are passionate and experienced trial attorneys who have represented both adult and child victims of sexual abuse across the nation. If you or a loved one was sexually abused in foster care, contact us or call +1 (415) 800-0590 for a free, confidential, no-obligation case review.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.