Mass. to pay $7m in foster home case
to act on abuse
By Jason Laughlin, Globe Staff

Massachusetts will pay $7 million to victims of an Oxford couple who lawyers and victims say tortured and abused foster children for nearly two decades, even as child welfare social workers and investigators were alerted to the horrors happening in the home.

Erica Brody, the lawyer for the four victims who brought the lawsuit, including one who died before the case reached its conclusion, announced the settlement Friday afternoon.

“Our clients have suffered unimaginably in their lives, first as survivors of physical and sexual torture, and second because they weren’t believed for all of these years,’’ said Brody, of the Boston law firm Brody Hardoon Perkins & Kesten.

The lawsuit accused the Department of Children and Family Services and more than a dozen workers of negligent supervision and violating the civil rights of children in its foster system. The settlement is a landmark in Massachusetts, Brody said, because until now it has been nearly impossible to hold social workers responsible for ignoring the safety of children cared for by the state’s child welfare system because of qualified immunity, which protects certain public workers from liability.

Andrea Grossman, a DCF spokesperson, said in a statement Friday the department hopes the settlement “is a source of strength and comfort to all involved.’’

“There is no amount that can remedy the trauma endured by the now adults who lived in the Blouin home nearly 20 years ago,’’ Grossman said.

Raymond and Susan Blouin are accused of abusing foster children placed in their home between 1987 and 2004. About 40 children cycled through the home at various times over the 17-year span, Brody estimated. Susan Blouin worked as a neonatal nurse and her husband worked at a Keebler cookie factory. Both were emergency medical technicians.

Susan sought out the most difficult children when she applied to be a foster parent.

“I would like a young child, one that has been sexually abused or neglected,’’ she wrote in the 1980s.

The accusations against the couple are horrifying.

They include allegations of sexual abuse, death threats, and children kept in dog crates. The Blouins are alleged to have bound children with duct tape. Accounts include children being whipped, locked in rooms without a toilet, and called racist names.

The four plaintiffs each spent years living with the couple at various times from the late 1990s to 2004, and all four were eventually adopted by them.

Raymond Blouin pleaded guilty to child abuse charges filed in 2003 and 2004 and was put on probation. Susan Blouin and her boyfriend, Philip Paquette, received pretrial probation. The Blouins now face charges of assault and battery on a child filed in 2019. Paquette was indicted on a charge of child rape.

The lawsuit accused DCF and 17 state social workers, supervisors, and investigators of failing for years to respond to clear signs that children in the home were in danger. State social workers received 14 abuse complaints about the couple, the suit stated. Nine times those charges were substantiated by the Department of Social Services, DCF’s former name. Children came to school with handprint-shaped bruises. In 1997, a teenager with cerebral palsy staying with the Blouins died, yet the state continued to rely on the couple to care for foster children. DCF shredded records of child abuse, the suit alleged.

Public officials are often protected from civil suits by qualified immunity, but Brody argued that shouldn’t shield DCF workers who repeatedly ignored warning signs children in the home were “in serious and imminent danger.’’ Last year, Superior Court Judge Joshua Wall refused to dismiss the case based on the state’s claims of qualified immunity.

“Until now, it has been nearly impossible to hold state employees liable for ignoring the safety of foster children,’’ Brody said.

Since the Blouins’ alleged activities came to light, DCF has restructured foster family oversight to ensure each family gets more dedicated attention from workers, said Grossman, the department spokesperson. The department also does background checks using state criminal and sex offender databases on potential foster and adoptive families, and follows up with further checks annually, and fingerprint-based record checks every two years.

The plaintiffs — now in their 20s and 30s — say the sexual and physical abuse they experienced, and DCF’s failure to respond to pleas for help, continues to haunt them.

“DCF took me out of my home and was supposed to put me in a nurturing one,’’ said one of the plaintiffs, John Williams, in a statement Friday. “Instead, DCF put me and my precious little brother into a home that had a well-known history of abusing children.’’

His brother, Nathan Williams, described a childhood lost to abuse and the indifference of DCF workers.

“We will never get our childhoods back, but we can finally feel something we never have gotten to feel — secure,’’ he said in his statement.

A third plaintiff is currently incarcerated, Brody said.

The plaintiff who died, Kristine Blouin, was placed in the Blouin home when she was just 2 weeks old; for the rest of her life, memories from there tormented her, a woman who acted as her surrogate mother has said. Kristine Blouin overdosed in 2022, and left behind two children who Brody said would benefit from the settlement amount.

“There was a time when our clients felt utterly hopeless because no one believed them. The people that were supposed to protect them, the DCF social workers, did not believe them,’’ Brody said. “I think that this settlement has inspired them to believe that they can have a positive impact on the foster care system for all children.’’