Foster parents says DHHR negligent in home investigation

By Cara Bailey | Oct 9, 2007

CHARLESTON - A Roane County family that operated a foster home has filed a suit against a state agency, claiming children suffered when the home was closed because of unsubstantiated claims.

Delmer and Janet Matheny filed a suit Sept. 24 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the Department of Health and Human Resources. Michael Matheny, Joshua Shaw and Kristal Burgess are also named as plaintiffs.

Deloris Longfellow, Jaime Myers, Action Youth Care Inc., John Doe and Jane Doe also are named as defendants.

Michael Matheny, Shaw and Burgess were foster children in Delmer and Janet Matheny's home prior to 1999.

According to the suit, Longfellow placed a child, identified only as TA, in the Matheny home in April 1999.

"DHHR and AYC knew, or should have known that TA should not have been placed in a foster home with other children as a result of his repeated instances of unpredictable and dangerous behavior," the suit says.

In early July 1999, when being confronted about stealing by a neighbor who also had foster children, TA threatened to "say things" to get the neighbor "kicked out of Action Youth Care," the suit says.

Action Youth Care is a nonprofit business in Jackson County that contracts with people and legal entities to provide foster care for children.

In late July, Janet Matheny requested that TA be removed from her home. According to the suit, when he learned of the request, he made additional threats, including threatening to burn the home and two of the other children.

"In late July 1999, based on the unsubstantiated claims of TA, and the unsubstantiated report of DHHR investigator Mark Abbot, the DHHR defendants decided to permanently close the foster care home operated by Delmer and Janet Matheny," the suit says.

At that time, six children, including many who had been in the home for several years, were removed.

According to the suit, Delmer and Janet Matheny immediately filed a grievance to protest the closure.

"In the meantime, Michael Matheny, Joshua Shaw and Kristal Burgess, children then living with Delmer and Janet Matheny, were separated and placed in three alternate foster care arrangements," the suit says.

According to the suit, the children each suffered greatly from the dissolution of their family. As a result of the different arrangements, each were denied educational opportunities and suffered physical, psychological and emotional injuries, the suit says.

Michael Matheny and Kristal Burgess later returned to live with the Matheny's until they reached 18.

According to the seven-count suit, the DHHR was negligent by refusing to properly investigate the facts that gave rise to the closure of the Matheny foster home, and failing to timely resolve the allegations.

The Mathenys, as well as Michael Matheny, Joshua Shaw and Kristal Burgess, seek compensatory and punitive damages.

Attorney James P. McHugh is representing the plaintiffs. The case has been assigned to Judge Louis Bloom.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 07-C-2047

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