The system in place to oversee Washington state's adoption system lacks sufficient safeguards to protect children from potentially abusive homes, according to a report due out Tuesday.
The report was prepared by the Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee, a panel assembled in the wake of several high-profile child abuse incidents last year. It includes case studies of 15 incidents of child abuse or neglect that occurred in 2011 and 2010.
One of those incidents involved 13-year-old Hana Williams, who froze to death last fall just yards from her adopted Sedro-Woolley home. Investigators said her parents, Larry and Carri Williams, left her outside as a form of punishment. Both now face charges of homicide by abuse.
“These kids experienced terrible, terrible abuse," said Mary Meinig, the Ombudsman of Family and Children Services and a coauthor of the report.
The report concluded that the state provided "inadequate oversight," education and licensing of private adoption services; adoption cases were not sufficiently tracked, particularly cases where a final adoption did not go through after a child was placed with a family; evidence was found that showed some prospective parents were "shopping" for positive pre-adoption feedback; and, documents were not filed with courts as required by state law.
KING 5 News obtained a copy of the report on Monday night. Most of the report focuses on ways state officials could fix the system, including expanded training requirements for people working in the adoption system. Specific recommendations include:
The report suggests the state should:
- Strengthen Oversight of Child Placing Agencies
- Develop and Distribute “Red Flags” On Troubled Adoptions
- Track Adoption Disruption and Dissolution
- Increase Qualifications for Individuals Conducting Adoption Home Studies and Post-Placement Reports
- Enhance Minimum Requirements for Adoption Home Studies
- Make Sure All Home Studies Are Filed With Courts
- Improve Training For Parents
- Create Minimum Requirements for Child Placing Agency Staff
- Train Professionals Involved in Adoption Process
- Enhance Support Services for Adoptive Families
“It did take us a while to step back and say, ‘what’s going on,’” explained Becky Smith from Children’s Administration.
Smith called the report an indictment of the private and public adoption system, giving Washington a “B” grade.
“We should be expecting the same requirements of a private adoption as we do an adoption done by Children’s Administration,” Smith said.
The report offers only vague prescriptions for fixing the sytem. It suggests more resources, money and oversight but no clear idea of how to accomplish or pay for the results.
“Maybe it’s a call to arms,” Meinig said, “This is the launch point.”
One challenge the state faces in executing the recommendations is paying for them. As the report's authors note, "Almost all recommendations would likely require additional resources for implementation." Where those resources would come from is up to the legislature and governor.
State lawmakers will receive the report on Tuesday. Gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna (R) and Jay Inslee (D) have both said they believe improving the adoption oversight system is a top priority.