- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The grandparents of two young sisters who were sexually abused by their parents while in foster care are suing New Hampshire’s child protection agency.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges the Division for Children, Youth and Families allowed the biological parents to have unsupervised visits with their children in 2013, even after police began investigating reports the couple had molested other children at a homeless shelter where they were living.

The grandparents, who have adopted the girls, also are suing Easter Seals of New Hampshire, which oversaw earlier supervised visits and is accused of allowing abuse to occur during “bath time” with the parents.

“These horrific acts of sexual abuse were 100 percent foreseeable and 100 percent preventable. These two girls should never have been placed back in the care of these two monsters who inflicted this abuse on them,” said the grandparents’ attorney, Cyrus Rilee.

The lawsuit does not identify the parents or grandparents by name to protect the children’s privacy. The girls, now 5 and 7 years old, were 18 months old and 4 years old at the time of the abuse.

The parents are serving 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse and child pornography. According to the lawsuit, the couple videotaped more than a dozen incidents in which the girls were assaulted, including one in which the older girl’s mouth was covered with duct tape and her hands bound behind her back.

After one visit in November 2013, the girls’ grandmother saw the younger girl rubbing a paintbrush against her genitals and when asked what she was doing answered, “Mommy and Daddy do it - no they don’t, don’t tell, I’ll get in trouble!” The grandparents immediately went to police, and the parents were arrested about 10 days later.

That visit was two months after Claremont police notified the Division for Children, Youth and Families that several children at a homeless center reported the girls’ father had molested them, the lawsuit states.

“If that isn’t shocking enough, after the abuse was discovered and the parents were arrested, when confronted by the adoptive mother and the investigating police officer about how they could have allowed unsupervised visits with the parents in light of the pending criminal investigation involving child sexual abuse, DCYF told both of them that they had to give these parents ‘the opportunity to fail,’” Rilee said.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said the department takes the need to ensure child safety and wellbeing seriously and has been working to increase staffing. He recently authorized moving 22 positions from other areas within the department, began hiring workers to extend coverage to 8 p.m. and is working to establish a 24/7 program.

A spokeswoman for Easter Seals said the organization takes the matter seriously, will cooperate with authorities and remains committed to supporting children, adults and families.

Gov. Maggie Hassan called for an outside review of the agency after two mothers were accused of killing their toddler daughters within a year of each other. That review is expected to be completed next month, but Rilee said it falls far short of addressing the problems. Beyond unspecified damages, Thursday’s lawsuit seeks to force the state to immediately increase staffing at the Division for Children, Youth and Families and provide services 24 hours a day.

“It’s no wonder that children are being physically and sexually abused and killed while in the child protection system in New Hampshire. Sadly, the only public response from DHHS … has been that the findings of the study will be used by DHHS to craft its next budget,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable. Abused and neglected children in the state of New Hampshire cannot wait until the end of next June for help.”

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This story has been corrected to show the lawsuit was filed Thursday, not Wednesday.

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