Los Angeles County was sued Tuesday by about 12 individuals who allege they were sexually assaulted as children while housed at the former county-run MacLaren Children’s Center.

The county operated the emergency shelter placement facility in El Monte — also known as MacLaren Hall — from 1961 to 2003. Children removed from their homes were temporarily housed there while awaiting placement with a foster family.

Run for much of the time by the county Probation Department, MacLaren Hall “was operated more like a prison, rather than a home for dependent children,” the Pomona Superior Court suit alleges.

Guards and staff frequently physically restrained and abused children, who also were frequently sexually assaulted and abused by staff members and other children because of poor supervision, the suit states.

“There have been numerous reports by former residents of being overmedicated, taunted by staff, restrained, physically beaten and mentally abused,” the suit states.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Adam Slater called MacLaren Children’s Center “a literal house of horrors for the children who were brought there, often taken from an abusive home only to be re-abused at MacLaren.”

“The county of Los Angeles had one responsibility — to protect and care for vulnerable children, but these children were sexually abused by the very people who were supposed to protect them and ignored by other adults when they reported the abuse,” Slater said.

A county Department of Children and Family Services representative issued a statement regarding the lawsuit.

“While the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services does not comment on pending litigation, the allegations leveled in any civil claim should and will be thoroughly examined,” the statement read.

“DCFS serves more than 29,000 vulnerable children and families in Los Angeles County and each of our nearly 9,000 employees is held to the highest standards. Our department has many safeguards in place to protect children in our care and to hold accountable those who violate laws and policies.”

Control of MacLaren Hall was transferred from the Probation Department to the Department of Social Services in 1976 following public outcry stemming from the inappropriate treatment of foster children, according to the suit.

Five MacLaren Hall employees were arrested in 1984 following discovery of their crimes against residents, including child molestation and selling drugs to children, the suit states.

Criminal background checks on the staff about 20 years ago showed that at least 17 employees had criminal histories that rendered them ineligible to work at the facility, according to the suit.

MacLaren Hall was closed in 2003 as part of a class-action settlement headed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

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