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Rape in South Dakota Foster Care: Our Fault

Last updated on 2014.03.27

A Brown County jury convicted Fred Slota Wednesday of raping and having sexual contact with a seven-year-old girl in his care. It is the second time in two years that an Aberdeen foster father will go to prison for raping one of his own foster children.

Foster children have been raped by their foster fathers. And to some extent, it is our fault.

You and I and all South Dakotans are responsible for our state's foster children. We decide that their natural parents are failing to take care of them. We take those children from their natural homes. We take on the responsibility of placing those children in better homes. We create and fund a Department of Social Services and a foster care system to identify, recruit, license, monitor, and pay foster parents to take on the enormous burden of protecting, raising, and loving children who can be very hard to protect, raise, and love.

And in the case of Fred Slota, and in the case of Richard Mette, we have placed children in the care of rapists.

Human institutions fail. Background checks don't catch every scumbag. No matter how hard we try, bad people do bad things.

But we can't shrug at the rape of our children. Emphasize our. These victims are our children, South Dakota's children. We told these children, "These men will take care of you," handed them over, and then failed to save them from being raped.

Our Department of Social Services failed to weed out these predators. Our elected officials failed to provide the staff, the resources, or the rules that could have protected these children. And we, we, we have failed these children by not demanding an investigation of the failures of our foster care system and a serious effort to reform it.

The children in these foster homes have been scarred for life. We bear some blame. Will we shrug, or will we act?


  1. Troy 2014.03.28


    In the realm of nitpicking, with no intent to minimize anything, we are not at "fault" as the act is the sole responsibility of the rapist. A lack of sufficient due diligence in screening is negligence which is a lower standard than fault.

    Now, if we fail to correct with the knowledge of what has occurred, I would then agree we are at fault for future recurrences.

    I say this because affixing blame for the past creates a disproportionate focus on the past vs. the future.

    Just to be clear, my heart breaks when I contemplate this horror and my only thoughts are for proper care for this innocent young girl and actions to prevent future children from suffering such horror.

  2. Kathy 2014.03.28

    There are problems with DSS/foster care and yes, in a way, it is our fault. I was a CASA volunteer and the most frustrating thing about it for me is when you know what is in the best interest of the child you're advocating for and DSS does the opposite. And then your hands are tied. Or that you can live in Sioux Falls, the case you're working on is in Minnehaha Co. but they send "your" kid to a group home halfway across the state because the foster home didn't work out and there is no place in Sioux Falls. Or they give an alcoholic parent chance after chance after chance to clean up their act and while this person puts on a good act of cooperating, they really aren't. And then they allow this same parent, who lost custody in the last A&N case, as much contact as they want and don't understand how this parent could have possibly sabotaged the kid's stay and relationship with the foster family she was placed with.

    It does take a special kind of person to be a CASA volunteer. It is a wonderful organization. Dealing with the "system", can be frustrating, when your heart is in the right place and you truly want to help someone. I would still encourage people to do it. The one good thing is that when you write that report, the judge does read it and take it seriously--at least here in Minehaha Co. they do, because you spent more time with the child than DSS has.

    As far as reforming DSS, I have no answer to that. My gut tells me that change has to come from within and when social workers get burned out and leave, new blood doesn't stay long enough to make a difference nor do they have the influence or clout to change the system.

    I'm sorry to be such a downer. I do agree with this post though. Something has to change.

  3. Troy 2014.03.28

    As I drove to work, I thought my words my be misinterpreted. I have a visceral reaction to deflection from the perpetrator like these:

    "My wife should have known I would hit her when she nags me." "The bartender should have known I was drunk so he is partly responsible for the girl I ran over."

    The person who did this is wholly to blame for the act.

    What we have done is we didn't fulfill a promise to this girl which is separate from the evil act. Broken promises whether by negligence, innocent ignorance, or accident must be made right and learned from.

    I just don't want the assumption of even partial blame to excuse, mitigate, or explain the heinous act. Not being critical of you Cory. Just want to put the foci in the right places.

  4. Robin Page 2014.03.28

    Our foster "care" system is full of problems! Federal laws (ICWA), and others, are not followed. The recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem are often ignored. There is very little meaningful work with the parents to address the problems they have. Often there is a lack of services available to help parents get drug/alcohol treatment or build a positive support system for themselves and their children. I was told that it is normal to place a child in a foster home where both parents work and that during the day the foster child is taken to another foster home, that is also a licensed child care home. (Double dipping the system?) So who is really watching and "caring" for these kids. In many states if a child is younger than school age, one of the foster parents, preferably the mom, is required to stay at home and properly give the child the love and attention that is so desperately needed. It is hard enough for a child to learn new rules and expectations in a foster home, but then to also have to go to a day care is really asking a lot from already traumatized children. Do our foster homes really provide a safer environment for foster children? I am sure that many do, however, I believe that if we do not look seriously at identifying the problems and fixing them, more children will suffer. P.S. I was a licensed foster parent in another state for 7 years. I have cared for 22 foster children, seven of whom have remained with me through adoption or long term custody and guardianship. When I moved to South Dakota in 2005, I was shocked to see the problems in the system here! Changes are desperately needed!!

  5. Nick Nemec 2014.03.28

    Don't try to minimize the responsibility the State assumes when it places these kids. Yes the rapist is responsible but the State set up a system to remove children and place them with a family other than their own. The State has the responsibility to insure the kids are placed in safe, stable environments, in this case the State failed.

    This isn't the first time the State of South Dakota failed to protect children that is assumed responsibility for. Does the name Gina Score ring a bell? How about State Representative Ted Klaudt, now doing time for the rape of his foster daughter?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.28

    I understand the parallel you offer, Troy, and your visceral reaction. It makes sense.

    I do not say the rapists are not to blame. Their guilt goes without saying. But our system failed. We bear some responsibility for system failure. I will agree with your thinking in future focus: our even greater responsibility is to fix the system.

  7. Troy 2014.03.28


    Nothing I am saying is to minimize the very real fact that the promise was not fulfilled to this child nor minimizing the responsibility the State assumes.

    My only point is that if anyone or any entity shares the "blame" then the rapist is less responsible. He did it. He is fully responsible. There is no explanation, excuse, nothing mitigating, and can't claim "the State shoulda/coulda known I would do this so I can't get the most extreme sentence."

  8. Bill Fleming 2014.03.28

    Interesting discussion.

    Troy, when a government fails to protect individuals from social predators, or worse, places children in their "care," and the child is harmed, that government has failed that child. If, by extension, we are a government of, by and for the people (i.e. we are the government) then we are responsible.

    Were this not the case, there would be no "pro-life" political movement, would there?

    (Just trying to think your position through.)

  9. Nick Nemec 2014.03.28

    I disagree Troy. There is shared responsibility, the rapist is responsible for his actions and the State of South Dakota is responsible for running, or failing to run, an adequate child protection agency. Underfunding, overworked case officers, inadequate foster parent training and inadequate foster parent background checks all contribute to the problem and the blame can be placed squarely at the collective feet of the governors and legislatures for the last 30 years or so.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.28

    No, Troy, it's not zero-sum game. Assigning additional blame does not lessen the rapist's blame. In no way does my blog post, our collective recognition of our failure, or public resolve to reform DSS, elect new leaders, whatever, serve as evidence that Slota or Mette can use in court to argue for a lesser sentence.

    Besides, the individual rapists are in no position to reform the system. We are. There lies our unique and separate responsibility.

  11. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.28

    "My taxpayer dollars". We have heard this cry at local, state and national levels when the government goes to war, builds something we don't like, etc.
    As Bill pointed out, by extension the people are the government, to further extend Bill's comment, as taxpayers we have a vested financial interest in the Department of Social Services and the children they are responsible for.
    If we can advocate against war and government spending, we should also advocate for better protections for our children. The people that comprise our government are responsible or should be.
    Troy's comment "...because affixing blame for the past creates a disproportionate focus on the past vs the future", caught my attention. The cases Cory cited are only the recent cases of child rape of children in DSS care. There are more. The problem is that DSS knows there is the potential of this happening from past experiences and they apparently not put necessary safe guards in place.
    These cases should not be teachable moments, the focus needs to be on the past, present, and the future equally.

  12. Tara Volesky 2014.03.28

    Yes, there is a lot of cover-up when it comes to the DSS. The Governor should know because has worked for Children's home Society, but he has been pretty quiet on the issue. Children should be a top concern in the Governor's race not a trip to China, or how to dole out the money for building SD. Check out the fb page
    "ANGELS" NEED YOUR HELP........we should be ashamed of ourselves to let this tragedy happen right before our eyes. I don't understand how the DSS can take 3 children away from their adoptive parents after living with them for three and a half years. This story should be national news.
    I have tried make several phone calls to the CRST and DSS. Nobody will talk. Let's keep it secret at the expense of the children.

  13. Les 2014.03.28

    "" the focus needs to be on the past, present, and the future equally.""

    So mentioning Hitler doesn't automatically lose the argument Roger, cool.
    You made a great statement a while back Roger. "All this empty talk and no action."
    DSS has some very good employees but, their hands are often tied with the preemptive BS that is somehow more important than the children they are here to protect.
    Cory says "the state" in all of us failing. I say it takes a community to raise a child. Often someone knows the potential of a predator whether it's family, friends or??? We are so far removed from local control with DSS that almost anyone can qualify, who wouldn't have been considered for a moment with a more local setting. I doubt Ted Klaudt would have been approved for fostering if it would have been a local call, Nick, and his wife, should have done some time for her lack of responsibility as well.
    Actions, not empty words after the fact will help protect our children.

  14. larry kurtz 2014.03.28


  15. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.29

    Hilter, really Les? You don't consider that he is lesson learned? Maybe not for some. While your thinking about that, keep Goodwin to yourself.

    The past: Ted Klaudt

    The present: Slota, Mette. What if anything was learned from the time Klaudt molested foster children to the recent attacks on children by Slota and Mette? Were there any safe guards put into place to screen foster parents to determine their fitness? If DSS is encumbered with BS or too busy, perhaps foster children be placed in an agency that can give those children absolute protection.

    The future: How many more children will be subjected to sexual predators before children are safe?

    Nick and his wife? Explanation please!

  16. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.03.29

    A friend worked for child protection in DSS in the late 80s. She was a wonderful advocate for the children, but the frustrations others have described became overwhelming. She switched to the employment division.

    Another friend is a psychologist specializing in children for LSS in SD. She is highly skilled and does a wonderful job with the little ones. She works simultaneously with the parents teaching them skills they have not learned before. Because she works for a private nonprofit, rather than the state, she has significantly greater resources. She often testifies in court on children's behalf. She does very well.

    If SD provided adequate resources, children would be so much better cared for and protected.

  17. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.03.29

    Because SD has initiative, is there a source for an effective law regarding this issue? Of course, the problem with a law is that the legislature can change it. How about a constitutional amendment? It would need to be detailed enough to thwart attempts to diminish it, but also flexible enough to accommodate the unknown future.

    A certain percentage of SD's income is devoted to children? $X per child?

    Any thoughts? I'm talking about petition-carrying, publicity-planning, some funding, etc. We're not powerless.

    I'm thinking of this type of action because I have little faith that the Republican power structure is interested in anything other than ALEC's agenda.

  18. Nick Nemec 2014.03.29

    Roger, while Les is awkward in his phrasing, given the commas I think he is talking about Ted Klaudt's wife and not mine. Les, if that isn't what you're saying could you please clarify your comment?

    Les actually makes some sense here, maybe more local input could have identified Klaudt as a bad choice for foster parent. Arguably he was protected, for a while, by the good old boy system in Pierre because of his position as a Republican legislator. After his arrest and conviction I heard stories from legislators and legislative hangers-on that Klaudt was famous for making inappropriate comments. A certain faction of legislators and rightwing bloggers found his non-political correctness refreshing. In reality it may have been telling.

    The key is money. More money in wages for case workers, more money to hire more caseworkers so case loads are lower, maybe more money for foster parents to attract more people to consider becoming foster parents.

    One aspect that can't be overlooked and is the unspoken 800 lb. gorilla in the room is the inherent racism in the system. A disproportionate share of kids in foster care are Native American kids. The system in South Dakota doesn't place as high a value on natives and the chronic underfunding of child protective services is evidence of that. We should be ashamed.

  19. mike from iowa 2014.03.29

    If the state is not enthusiastically willing to feed,educate and ensure the health of children,why worry about whether they are protected from sexual predators? To some pols,children are best used as pawns to further personal agendas. They(children) aren't seen as individuals-just impersonal numbers that could result in higher taxes,and lord knows we can't have that.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.29

    Nick sees a gorilla: racism. Chilren aren't an ALEC issue; Indian kids, even less so. If the Governor spent half the time talking about child welfare that he does talking about corporate welfare, a lot of foster care problems would disappear.

    Nick is right about what Les says about community and local control. Friends and neighbors have a role. If we aren't providing DSS with the resources to involve those friends and neighbors, and if we friends and neighbors aren't taking time to watch for and report bad behavior toward children, then that further supports my thesis that we as a state bear blame for the ills taking place and responsibility for fixing those ills.

  21. Les 2014.03.29

    Midnight, isn't a great time to be expressing thoughts as Roger clearly points out. Should have been....I doubt Ted Klaudt would have been approved for fostering if it would have been a local call, Nick. Ted's wife, should have done some time for her lack of responsibility as well. She was a part of the foster agreement.
    Close to the end of his time in Pierre, I asked Ted about evening caucus and his reply was, the kids(pages was my impression) and I have pizza and pop at my room. I thought that was odd, but who knows? I'm betting his neighbors and family were not all surprised by the event. In any event the voters knew something, and elected Sen Maher over a fairly popular Klaudt.
    Ted was working on or pushing a law dealing with social services malfunction, don't remember exactly but I do remember he had many social service providers on his side and they loved him and called him Teddy Klaudt.
    Nick is right about the racism. It's a mix of racism and money, a more profitable child to foster is an Indian child. There are undoubtedly more social issues on the Rez by proportion, but the white population is rapidly catching up and the issues cross race lines.

  22. Nick Nemec 2014.03.29

    Les, Klaudt obviously had social services snowed. That's why your idea of more local input makes sense. A case worker with fewer cases and therefore more time to spend in the local area checking kids and more time to hear about suspicions and check them out could prevent problems before they ever happen. I'm not ready to turn social services over to the counties because so many counties in SD don't have the population and expertise to do a credible job, but state case workers "closer to the ground" would be invaluable.

  23. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.29

    Les is just awkward with commas, he's just awkward.

    I have not advocated removing local control of the foster parent program, like you, I think they can and should do better.

    Clearly DSS isn't equipped to do this job, incidentally this is not just a problem in South Dakota, it is a problem nationally.

    I agree that it takes money to do this job well, but what better way to spend money. Caseworkers need to be assigned to specific cases and their findings monitored.

    Were the children raped by Mette and Slota Indian children and are there other cases of Indian children being raped.

    A number of years ago while working in the Newell-Sturgis area I knew several white families that fostered Indian children. From my observations they were good families with good intentions. They would often call me with their frustrations in dealing with the Indian childrens behavior and I was always eager to oblige them.

    Aside from the obvious problem of being removed from their home and family, Indian children have a whole other set of problems.

    Indian children are for the most part raised by different family values than non-Indians. There is often a conflict of the old ways of doing things with the way white parents do them.

    If whites are going to be foster parents of Indian children it is essential that they not just understand Native American history, but the way Indians differ from whites in rearing children.

    Years ago, Dr. John Bryde or Father Bryde at the time, authored a number of books on the Lakota value system and how those values sustained family and the tribe.
    After leaving the priesthood, Dr. Bryde continued his work at USD as head of the Native American studies department.
    The works of Dr. Bryde and others in their field need to be a requirement for white foster parents.

  24. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.03.29

    Roger, is Gene Thin Elk still at USD? Is Doris Leader Charge still around? Either of those two would be an excellent source too. You can't be everywhere and do everything.

  25. mike from iowa 2014.03.29

    Serious question for Deb or Roger-was the late Chief Ted Thin Elk(of Thunderheart movie fame) related to this Gene Thin Elk?

  26. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.29

    Deb and Mike,

    I've been out of the social service area for sometime and really don't know what Gene or Doris are doing. They both made significant contributions to Native youth, particularly Gene.
    Mike I don't know if Gene and Ted are related, given that the name they share, it is quite likely.

  27. mike from iowa 2014.03.29

    Thanks for the help,Roger. His bio says he passed away on the Rosebud Sicangu Lakota Reservation(1997) and was buried in Holy Family Cemetery,Todd Co, SoDak. No mention of siblings,just ex wives and children.

  28. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.03.29

    I don't know about Ted and Gene either, but as Roger said, they probably are related.

  29. Nick Nemec 2014.03.29

    Roger as a non-native I hesitate to expound on Native issues other than to say we need to do better. Finding more Indian foster parents and teaching non-Native foster parents about cultural differences would be a good starting point. Follow up on cases would seem to be a no brainer but with the present overloaded system it might be something case workers let slip.

  30. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.29


    Thanks for your comment and perspective. Please always feel free to comment on Native American issues. Having followed your comments on the blogosphere, you appear to have respect for the Lakota people and post positive comments.
    It does appear that there is not enough cultural awareness on the part of DSS and this needs to be changed. It will make the lives of all parties healthier.
    Many Indian children are taught from a young age to fear the white man, this is unfortunate, but is understandable and has become a part of Lakota culture.

  31. Les 2014.03.31

    Les is just awkward with commas, he's just awkward.""
    We are an awkward crew here ain't we Roger!

Comments are closed.