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WAITING FOR BABY: Bad seed slips through crack

By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 6:05 am in Adoption.

20070719 Shattered lives(“Waiting for Baby” is a closer look at adoption and my family’s personal experience as we go through the process. It will appear every Wednesday in the aPARENTly Speaking blog.)

Fingerprinting twice seemed a little absurd. As part of the pre-adoption home study process, my husband and I had to have our fingerprints processed for the background check. Not once, but twice. We had to make two separate appointments. We had to have our fingers pressed onto a computer screen and then come back a few minutes later and do it all over again. Asinine, I thought at the time. Why couldn’t the fingerprints we’d just given be copied and sent for each of the required state and federal background checks?

The logistics of this remain a mystery. The need for background checks does not. Last week, a New York woman was sentenced to almost 11 years in prison for fraud that led her to adopt 11 disabled children. Authorities say Judith Leekin physically and emotionally abused those children while collecting more than $1 million in subsidies. The children were beaten, locked in a room without food, denied medical and dental care and kept out of school. The damage is irreversible — and the reason why so many of us who plan to adopt wish the punishment extended well beyond what Leekin has received.

To the judge’s credit, he ordered her to serve three years above the maximum penalty she accepted as part of a plea deal. She also must pay the children $1.68 million in restitution. None of that makes up for the abuse these children suffered or the failure of the system to keep women such as her from adopting in the first place.

Every state has its own policies and procedures for adoption. In California, the pre-adoption home study is extensive. The paperwork includes health physicals, three letters of recommendation, employment verification, lengthy interviews and questionnaires, driving record checks and of course, the dual fingerprinting. Case workers instruct prospective adoptive parents to list every single indiscretion — even those “little” youthful slip-ups. A past mistake doesn’t necessarily mean your barred from adopting, but lying about it will. And considering the case in New York, that’s exactly the way it should be.

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