Child's death spurs changes

Date: 2006-07-07

Child's death spurs changes

Sean's legacy: better protection

Mandy Locke
Staff Writer

In death, 4-year-old Sean Paddock taught lots of grown-ups how to do their jobs better.

Social workers have heeded the lessons of the youngster's death four months ago and changed the way they try to protect children like him, according to reports released Thursday from the Wake County Child Fatality Prevention Team and Wake County Child Welfare Services.

The child welfare agency has adopted a slew of new policies and is considering other recommendations designed to avoid the circumstances that contributed to Sean's death.

Sean, an adopted child, died in an isolated Johnston County farmhouse in February after being bound so tightly in blankets he couldn't breathe. He had been roaming his new home at night; investigators said the wrappings were supposed to keep him still.

Lynn Paddock, Sean's adoptive mother, is charged with first-degree murder in his death. She also faces felony child abuse charges for the welts that covered the 30-pound boy, as well as his sister and brother. Investigators said Paddock had been beating the children with plastic plumbing pipes.

Social workers were intensely involved in Sean's case from his birth, said Warren Ludwig, director of Wake County Child Welfare Services. "What happened was a tragedy, and we tried very hard to see what we could learn," he said.

Some of the fatality team's recommendations and Wake County Child Welfare Service's new policies are:

* Strengthening the screening of adoptive parents. The community fatality team recommends adding psychological evaluations to the assessments of adoptive parents. Lynn Paddock was overwhelmed with her duties of raising seven children and turned to the advice of a Tennessee preacher who advocated hitting with plastic pipes as discipline, her attorney, Michael Reece, has said.

* Establishing better financial and emotional support for family members who take in maltreated children. Sean's uncle, Ronald Ford Jr., kept Sean and his siblings after social workers found the children living in an unheated home in the middle of winter. The responsibility overwhelmed the Fords, who had three young children and a limited income. They asked social workers to put the children in a foster home until they could straighten out their finances, Ford has said. Ludwig hopes a task force can develop recommendations to bolster family support by year's end.

* Letting social workers abandon work toward an adoption even without substantiated abuse. Sean came home from his first visit with Johnny and Lynn Paddock bruised on his backside. He and his older sister and brother told social workers that Lynn Paddock whipped him for playing with the family dog. Paddock told child welfare workers that the boy had fallen out of a bunk bed after throwing a temper tantrum, and social workers moved the adoption along.

* Communicating better with social workers in other counties during abuse investigations. Sean was from Wake County, and after Sean came home bruised Child Welfare Services officials asked Johnston County social workers to visit the Paddock home near Smithfield and interview the parents and other children. The Wake social worker who examined Sean's injuries never saw the bed he supposedly fell out of. The Johnston social worker who saw the room never spoke with or examined Sean.

* Increasing county social workers' presence during an adoption process even when working with a private adoption agency. In Sean's case, an adoption worker from Children's Home Society, a private agency in Greensboro that contracts with the state to find adoptive parents for foster children, was the most involved with his placement.

Reviewing Sean's case was unpleasant work, said Dr. Peter Morris, a pediatrician and county public health director who leads the County Child Fatality Prevention Team. The team of community members and county human services staff examines every case when a child involved with the county child welfare agency dies.

"Sean's life was a tragedy," Morris said. "It's difficult. How do you explain this to the public?"

Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at 829-8927 or mandy.locke@newsobserver.com.
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