OHEL Children's Home and Family Services (Hebrew: [ˈohel]; lit. "tent") is a large not-for-profit Jewish social service agency, primarily located in New York City, that provides counseling, crisis intervention, and other services to children and families who are going through or suffering from abuse, domestic violence, marital problems, mental health issues, or neglect. New York City’s Child Welfare Administration works with OHEL when serious situations arise.
The alleged victim, who used the pseudonym Jane Doe in court papers, says she was abused in the 1980s while in the care of OHEL Children’s Home and Family and Services. The agency allegedly ignored obvious warning signs that emerged when she was around 7, including her loss of weight and an extreme change in behavior.
“OHEL’s case workers didn’t just fail to protect me. They falsely branded me a liar. They told me never to talk about being abused because no family will let a liar into their home,” the woman, who is now in her 40s, said in a statement.
The woman emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union when she was 3 with her mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder. In less than two years she was placed in the care of OHEL, which the suit charges puts “undue emphasis” on connecting biologically Jewish children with Orthodox Jewish foster homes.
The agency placed the girl in the Elizabeth, N.J. home of Moshe Aharon Jacobs, who lived with his wife and two daughters, the suit states. Jacobs allegedly violently sexually assaulted the girl while in his care.
Jacobs now lives in Israel, according to the suit. He could not be reached. The alleged victim claims she told an OHEL case worker she’d been repeatedly sexually abused and could not sit comfortably. The worker agreed to transfer her out of the house — but only because “she had lied” and could no longer live in the home, the suit states. The “liar” label followed her while she remained in OHEL’s care, the suit states.
Child sexual abuse in foster care is a serious problem across the country. Several localized studies demonstrate the startling implications of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in the foster care system:
- A John Hopkins University study of a group of foster children in Maryland found that children in foster care are four times more likely to be sexually abused than their peers not in this setting, and children in group homes are 28 times more likely to be abused.
- An Oregon and Washington state study determined that almost one-third of foster children reported abuse by a foster parent or another adult in the home.
- Researchers of a study of investigations of abuse in New Jersey foster homes, concluded that “no assurances can be given” that any foster child in the state is safe.
More than half of child sex trafficking victims recovered through FBI raids across the U.S. in 2013 were from foster care or group homes. This statistic brings to light the failure of the system to address the recurring sexual exploitation of minors while in their protection. Predators immediately recognize that children in foster care are especially accessible to them, because the adults charged with protecting them are not doing so.
Foster care should be a last but safe resort for children who can’t live with their biological parents. Tragically, it is not a safe option and becomes a haven for sexual abuse and mistreatment. If you or a loved one have been sexually abused while in foster care, the attorneys at Rheingold, Giuffra, Ruffo, & Plotkin are here to help you.