Agency is sued in foster home sex abuse case


A Columbia agency that places children in foster care is being sued by the family of a Baltimore County boy who has said he was molested by his foster father -- a Baltimore assistant middle school principal now facing criminal charges of abusing the boy and two others.

The parents of the boy charge that Charles Michael Shockney Jr. confined their son, then 7, to his bedroom, threatening he would hit the boy or "break his arms" if he did not participate in sexual activity, court records state.

Mr. Shockney, 39, an assistant principal at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in the 5000 block of Sinclair Lane, was charged in January with sex offenses of various degrees, sexual child abuse and assault and battery against three boys between 1991 and 1993. He is free on $75,000 bail pending trial May 7 in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Authorities have said the other two boys involved in the criminal cases were not foster children of Mr. Shockney's but were abused while he was baby-sitting or in social situations with them.

The relatives of the Baltimore County boy are identified only as Doe in court papers, and their lawyer, Ellen A. Callegary, would not answer questions yesterday about the $55 million suit.

The suit, which also names Mr. Shockney and his wife, Nancy, as defendants, alleges that Mr. Shockney was charged with child abuse about nine years before the child lived with him. Columbia-based Baptist Family & Children's Services of Maryland Inc. knew that when it placed the boy with the Shockneys between April 1992 and April 1993, the suit says.

Furthermore, Baptist Family did not tell the boy's relatives about Mr. Shockney's prior arrest, telling them instead that the Shockneys "were qualified foster parents," the suit charges.

State regulations require that criminal background checks be conducted on prospective foster parents, said J. C. Shay, spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources. Those who have been convicted of certain crimes are to be rejected automatically. Short of that, it is up to the chief administrator of a private agency placing a child whether to reject a candidate who had been charged, but not convicted, of an offense, he said.

Baptist Family is a private agency that has a contract with the department to place about 30 children, ages 4 to 17, in foster care. According to the suit, the Shockneys were to provide "therapeutic" foster care, a type of care for children who have special needs. In general, "therapeutic" foster parents are supposed to have training. The suit also names as defendants Baptist Family's Executive Director Robert H. Gerstmyer, President Arla A. Ely and Secretary James S. McBride.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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