Adoption agencies strive to prevent abusers from adopting

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Date: 2007-09-11

Adoption agencies strive to prevent abusers from adopting

By Cynthia Beaudette of the Muscatine Journal

MUSCATINE, Iowa — As a 2-month-old infant remains hospitalized in critical condition and the Muscatine woman who was in the process of adopting him is charged with injuring him, some people are asking how something like this could have happened.

According to the Iowa code, prospective adoptive parents in this state must meet certain legal requirements in order to adopt. But sometimes, those measures don’t prevent tragedy, said Kerri Tompkins director of Child and Family Services Array with Family Resources of the Quad Cities.

“We can have families jump through 20 million hoops, but there are no guarantees.”

Melanie Leathers Addington has been charged with child endangerment resulting in serious injury of an infant boy in her care, according to documents filed at the Muscatine County Courthouse.

According to the complaint, Addington, 29, allegedly shook and slammed 2-month-old Tyler Addington causing permanent brain injury. The complaint further alleges that the infant was in her care and was about to be adopted by Leathers Addington. The incident took place on Sept. 5, at Leathers Addington’s home, 2111 Bidwell Road, Apt. B 11.

The child is at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and is critical condition.

The process

If a family decides to adopt a child through an agency such as Family Resources, the process often begins before the child is living with the family.

At Family Resources, officials and staff handle adoptions of special needs children and assist mothers-to-be with adoption plans.

Families working to complete the adoption process with Family Resources complete up to 30 hours of training in parenting skills. These parents and everyone living in their home also undergo background checks,  which include learning whether or not the person is on the sex offender registry or has been involved in child abuse or other criminal activity.

Adoptive parents provide the agency with references,which  are used along with other references the agency may be interested in such as teachers for the family’s other children.

A signed physician’s statement and a financial statement are also required.

“The family does not have to be wealthy,” said Tompkins, a licensed master social worker.  “They just need to be able to take care of themselves. There is no cut -off on income. We’ve had lower income families adopt.”

A major component to completing an adoption through Family Resources involves creating a home study.

“We have to have a worker in the home three times at a minimum,” said Tompkins. Everyone in the home is interviewed, Tompkins said, and a 15-20 page report is completed on the family.

“We learn how the family members were raised and parented, if they went to college, about their employment and goals for their children and what type of support they will have at home and in the community,” said Tompkins. “It takes about 40 hours and is certainly a rigorous process.

“After all the paperwork is completed for the home study, we can make our decision,” said Tompkins.

Sometimes, families are not approved, Tompkins said, and the reasons for that vary.

A history of criminal behavior, including child abuse could be one reason a family would be denied, Tompkins said.

“It doesn’t happen often,” said Tompkins. “But it certainly does occur. It is difficult, but also necessary.”

According to the Iowa State code, families who are completing private adoptions must also complete a home study.

“If our agency did the study, it would be guaranteed to meet the legal code because we get audited and we have to meet legal requirements,” said Tompkins.

Family Resources recently joined with the newly formed Iowa Kids Net, a nearly one-year-old partnership among six Iowa agencies that handle adoptions of special needs children. Family Resources has been contracted by the state to perform the home studies for those adoptions in the Quad-City region, which includes Muscatine.

The time it takes to complete an adoption through Family Resources varies with the type of adoption. Ten weeks of training is needed for parents who want to adopt a special needs child and it can take four to five months for a parent to be approved.

For private adoptions, backgrounding, home studies and parent training can be completed within two months.

After the adoption is approved, the child must be in the home for six months before it is finalized. After that, a Family Resources worker will visit the home after the first month and again within 90 days of the finalization. A final visit is conducted after 180 days as well in order to meet the requirements of the state of Iowa.

After the final visit is conducted, Tompkins said Family Resources offers adoptive families the opportunity to participate in an adoption preservation program which is funded by the United Way. The voluntary program is offered to any adoptive family, even if they did not adopt through Family Resources, and payments for the service can be made on a sliding fee scale.

“It’s for any adopting family who needs us for as long as they need us,” said Tompkins. “Whether or not they went through our agency.”

Reporter contact information

Cynthia Beaudette: 563-262-0527

cynthia.beaudette@muscatinejournal.com

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