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