DSHS owes public an 'OK' accounting
Seattle P I, Nov. 24, 1998

  When the last penny of compensation is wrung out of taxpayers for the harrowing abuses at the state licensed OK Boys Ranch, the Department of Social and Health Services owes the public an accounting of its errors in judgment and how they have been dealt with administratively. Payment for this debacle is not the public's alone to bear.
  As of last week, the state had shelled out $14.4 million to more than 40 boys who sued over their mistreatment at the now-shuttered group home, which was operated by the Kiwanis Club of Olympia under DSHS oversight. The most recent settlement of $5.45 million to a dozen boys has removed any doubt that for years a pattern of rapes, beatings and general lawlessness permeated the alleged refuge for troubled boys.
  As one plaintiffs' attorney said, "The major thing in this (case) was we realized that this abuse had been going on for a period of 24 years. It affected the lives of probably 300 to 350 kids."
  Early on, the 15-bed home failed inspection after inspection by the state, whether for health, fire or program deficiencies. Then, for several years, reports of abuse - from rapes to beatings of younger boys by older ones to physical abuse of residents by the staff - went unheeded by DSHS, whose main office was but a few miles away.
  This pattern of inattention, and not just by one or two employees, must be accounted for. It is not enough to look forward, as DSHS has rightly done under the Legislature's direction. More case workers have been added so troubled children can be monitored more closely. Further, the DSHS division that inspects contracted homes no longer investigates complaints about them.
  Another safeguard now in place is the state Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman, which is charged with investigating complaints about the state's family and children's services.
  Only a glimpse of what really went on, and went horribly wrong, at the OK Boys' Ranch will ever be available to the public. And that glimpse only came about because a few attorneys believed the anguished stories of some of the former residents.
  It's shameful that the attorney general's office compounded DSHS' culpability by withholding documents damaging to the agency and providing plaintiffs’ attorneys with documents that had been altered. Covering up original mistakes to save the taxpayers more money at the time of trial or settlement isn't a moral or even shrewd financial option. For that too, the taxpayers paid -$417,500 to the boys and their attorneys. It was the largest sanction of its kind in state history.
  This is the kind of "public" service that gives government a bad name. When the litigation is over, a complete accounting by DSHS of the mistakes and how the perpetrators of those mistakes have been sanctioned might help citizens regain their trust in government.