Lawsuit accuses DSHS of failing to stop neglect

SEATTLE (AP) - A lawsuit filed Tuesday says two Washington girls suffered abuse and neglect from their mother and that state officials failed to stop the problem.

Family members, neighbors and school officials repeatedly alerted the state Department of Social and Health Services to express concerns about the children, lawyers said. The lawsuit says the girls from Lewis County suffered years of injury and neglect caused by their mother, who was convicted in 2009 of criminal mistreatment.

A spokeswoman for DSHS said the agency does not comment on lawsuits.

An aunt of the girls is now their guardian and is pursuing the lawsuit.

One of the daughters cared for horses and dogs on the property and was forced to sleep outside in a puppy mill, attorneys for the family said. She was repeatedly infested with lice and showed up at school bruised and visibly underweight. The girl ran away from home at age 13 and was found weighing only 60 pounds, the lawyers said.

Steve Bulzomi, a lawyer representing the children, said the animals the girl cared for received better treatment than she did.

"At least the animals were sometimes fed and they were most often fed by (the girl) who was forced to hide food for herself to survive," Bulzomi said in a statement.

The case seeks compensation for damages the girls suffered. An amount wasn't specified.

Court documents say that Child Protective Services sent investigators to the mother's property many times over the span of several years.

In a case summary detailed in a Court of Appeals ruling in the mother's criminal case, officials said CPS workers often found the home dirty. But they didn't attempt to remove the children because there was adequate food and shelter, and no reports of physical abuse, according to the summary.

One CPS investigator asked the mother to take the girls to a medical appointment, and she complied. The investigator observed normal interactions between the mother and daughters and said the girls did not seem fearful. He talked to one of the girls, who denied any abuse, according to the records.

Lawyers said the mother initially gained sole custody of the girls after their father died in a car accident. They said the woman prevented the father's family members from seeing the children.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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