Adoption Subsidies Get Little Oversight

Md. Deaths Put Spotlight on D.C.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008; Page B01

The District is paying $27.6 million a year in federal and city funds, with little oversight, to hundreds of parents who adopted children from the city's foster care program.

The recipients have included Renee Bowman, who adopted three girls from the District and last week told police that she placed the bodies of two of them in a freezer at her home in Southern Maryland after one starved to death and the other died in a fall.

District officials are considering strengthening controls over the subsidy program by requiring evidence that children are enrolled in school or have been immunized. There was no record of school attendance by the three adoptive daughters of Bowman, who received $2,400 a month under the program.

"Because it's a subsidy, you can require school attendance, immunization and other things," said a District official who is not authorized to discuss the case. "It's just to verify that the child is still under the care of that individual receiving the subsidy, and those are the things we are considering."

The money is provided under the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which was enacted to keep foster children from languishing in a government system.

Foster children often bring with them the scars of physical and emotional abuse, and the subsidies are intended to improve the chances of finding permanent homes.

Bowman became a foster parent in 1999, when she took a little girl into her home. In 2001, she adopted the girl and took in two more foster children, sisters, who officially became her adopted daughters in 2004. The youngest of those girls, a 7-year-old, was found wandering a street in Southern Maryland last week, frightened and showing signs of abuse. She led police to Bowman's home, telling them that her mother had beaten her and killed her sisters. Officials removed the bodies of two children from Bowman's freezer but have not officially identified them.

Bowman received $800 a month for each girl, almost double the national average of $444 per child for an adoption subsidy, according to federal statistics.

In the District, subsidies are provided for the adoption of foster children who meet a special-needs requirement, said Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). She said the provision applies to virtually every foster child adopted in the city. A special-needs child in the District includes any child older than 2, a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, a member of a sibling group or a child with a disability.

As of August, subsidies had gone to support the adoption of 2,295 District children. The money is intended to help the children begin anew as part of a family, and a variety of programs are available to help with the transition. Most foster children have special needs because of the conditions that landed them in foster care, and their adoption is often financially challenging for the families, experts said.

The federal money requires a matching contribution from the city. Until Oct. 1, half of the subsidy was federal, and half was local. As of Oct. 1, 30 percent of the payment is District money, and 70 percent is federal money. The District pays subsidies monthly and seeks federal reimbursement quarterly, Hobson said.

Adoptive parents across the country were horrified by the Bowman case and the scrutiny it brings to a program that has found permanent homes for hundreds of thousands of children. Even with limited oversight, most children end up in safe and supportive families, advocates said.

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