Adoption Beat

October 10, 2008

Follow the Money

Filed under: must read — adoptionbeat @ 2:59 pm

“Follow the money” is an injunction to investigative reporters looking for the real story behind the events; it’s too bad that the media so seldom take that to heart when reporting on adoption.

Here is an example of reporting that does take adoption finance into account:

Petula Dvorak of the Washington post explores a somewhat controversial aspect of adoption, subsidies paid to parents who adopt from foster care which, not surprisingly, receive little oversight.

The federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 is another example of well-intentioned legislation that, along with safe-haven laws and sealed records, have been passed into law with the intent of making adoption more attractive, safer or to address non-existent problems in ways that benefit the industry.

AACW, enacted to keep foster children from languishing in a government system, pays state child welfare agencies a bonus for moving children from foster care to permanent adoptive homes. It also provides a source of income to the adoptive families. On the face if it, this sounds like a positive program. But, as adoption reform activists suggest, money is often at the heart of ill-advised practices.

If you have ever known a child who is in foster care, then think about the cause of his/her situation. Here are two examples:

Dennis, now a university professor, was a mixed-race child who was adopted by a couple in New York state. But his adoptive father died prematurely, and the adoptive mother returned him to the agency because she said having a child with a darker skin than her own might adversely affect her chances of remarriage.

April’s mother, who wrestled with drugs, alcohol and sexual excesses, gave birth to four children by four different fathers. April found refuge at the home of her next-door neighbor until the neighbors moved. The situation at home continued to deteriorate until social services removed April and her siblings from her mother’s care. They were parceled out to relatives and foster families. April’s former neighbors stepped up to the plate and offered to make a home for her. Now a physician’s assistant, April was lucky placed with the people who had become her surrogate family and remain with them until after graduation from her post-secondary training. Her older sister, repeating the life her mother lived, now has four children, both white and mixed race, who are in and out of her custody but for whom she collects welfare benefits.

While we have a societal obligation to protect and provide for our most vulnerable members, most will acknowledge that the foster care system produces mixed results at best. Foster children often suffer the effects of physical or emotional abuse by their natural parents or other relatives. Consequently, the financial incentive to move these children into permanent homes with loving parents sounds like the solution.

However, implementing these programs is problematic. Take the situation that prompted Dvorak’s reporting. Law enforcement found the bodies of two children adopted from foster care in Renee Bowman’s freezer. Southern Maryland resident, Bowman, adopted three girls from the District of Columbia. When one of these girls escaped abuse by scrambling out a window, the subsequent investigation found the bodies of one child who starved to death and another who died in a fall.

Bowman continued to receive $2,400 a month under the program because child welfare officials had no way of knowing two of her children were dead. There was no effective oversight. One report even suggests that social workers investigated, and although they did not see the two dead children, concluded that everything was in order.

The $800 per child monthly payment was roughly twice the national average subsidy of $444 because the girls qualified as “special needs” children.

There are thousands of children in foster care and subsidized adoption. Officials maintain that situations like this are the exception rather than the rule. But, without oversight, we don’t really know. And we should.


October 5, 2008

Secrecy vs. Need to Know

Filed under: must read,Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 6:04 pm

Here’s a blog — Raw Fisher — by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher that I recommend enthusiastically.

The gruesome event that prompts his blog is one about two children adopted from foster care in Maryland who were found recently in a freezer after a third child in the care of the Renee Bowman escaped by jumping out of a window in their home.

As soon as this hit the news wires, public officials were quick to proclaim that chid protective services were in no way to blame for the death of the children they had placed in Bowman’s care.

Advocates of reform both of adoption practices and child welfare protective services beg to differ. And this story comes on the heels of a story in Illinois were a member of the Illinois Adoption Advisory Council and her 26-year-old son were arrested after two foster children formerly in her care came forward with charges of sexual abuse over a period of several years,0,5051216.story. As in the Maryland case, it wasn’t the first red flag. And, similarly social workers had investigated and found nothing.

Now we learn that Maryland’s social services agency got a complaint accusing Bowman of child neglect last January, sent a caseworker to the house and concluded that everything was fine — “clean and appropriately furnished,” though with a funky smell that was attributed to mildew. (From Raw Fisher, 10/5/08)

Fisher maintains that the process of monitoring foster care and child welfare concerns, long shrouded in secrecy, is a mistake that has resulted in these situations that now claim public attention.

He writes in part:

In the reflexively privacy-obsessed world of adoptions, it is somehow an imposition if the public wants to know where the state’s wards end up, who is collecting the stipends taxpayers shell out to encourage adoption and how all that money is being spent. We know best, social workers say.

But anytime public money is involved, it’s the public’s job to demand oversight and accountability, and the only road to that goal is transparency.
Unfortunately, if the past is any indicator, public interest will fade fast – because the media will lose interest and move on – and child welfare officials have no stomach for reform.
I am one of those in the adoption reform movement who believes that sunshine is the answer. I still believe that the media could bring about positive reform if they would continue to keep the abuse made possible by the system before the public. But I despair of this happening. If the media could not keep the abuses of our financial system in front of Americans during the several years that lead up to this current crisis when it directly affects the purses of every American, then there’s little hope they will maintain a consistent focus on the needs of children, a large number of whom are poor and disadvantaged. The media surely believes that the average American is simply not interested. I hope they are wrong.

Do your part to encourage this tye of reporting by visiting and reviewing the column that prompted this blog.

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