Agencies don't interfere after exhaustive adoption process

Date: 2011-03-11
Source: gazette.com

By BARBARA COTTER

The story is heartbreaking and shocking: Two brothers with special needs have been missing for several years, and the couple who adopted them are accused of continuing to collect taxpayer-funded subsidies to raise the boys long after they disappeared from their Monument home.

One of the boys reportedly was shocked with a Taser, deprived of food and abused in other horrific ways.

Did the child protection system fail Austin and Edward Dylan Bryant? Were there red flags that were overlooked or ignored?

Those who work in child welfare believe nothing could have been done to change the course of events. The boys were legally adopted after a lengthy, systematic process that required court approval. The boys’ parents continued to send in the required paperwork to receive the subsidies.

Apparently, no one called authorities to report possible abuse, so there was no legal cause to check on the kids. And no one followed up on the paperwork because nothing unusual stood out.

The system wasn’t the problem, they say. The problem rests with the adults, who allegedly figured out how to abuse it.

“I think that generally that process will work with the vast majority of adoptive placements, and obviously, this case looks to be an egregious exception to the standard adoption,” said Jeff Koy, director of training and litigation with Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, which works to protect abused and neglected children.

“I don’t think anything more could be put in place. There’s always an opportunity for people to take advantage of the system.”

According to legal documents, the brothers were put into foster care with Linda and Edward Bryant in the late 1990s; in March 2000, the Bryants adopted the boys and a third sibling, David, who has been accounted for.

Child welfare officials won’t discuss the case specifically, but if proper procedures were followed, the couple would have undergone intense scrutiny before becoming foster parents, and again before being approved as adoptive parents, said Sharen Ford, manager for permanency services with the Colorado Department of Human Services.

They would have had background checks and court reviews. They would have been questioned separately about a variety of issues, including their desire and motivation to adopt. Older children would have been interviewed. The guardian ad litem — the court-appointed advocate for the children — would have weighed in. And the judge would have gone over the evidence a number of times before granting the final adoption decree. It’s the same whether a family is adopting one child or nine, as the Bryants did.

“It’s a very involved process,” Ford said.

Once the adoption process is final, government oversight ends unless there’s reason for follow-up, such as a report of abuse.

“Families have rights, so when a child has a finalized adoption, there is no longer a requirement for the county department or state department to have monthly face-to-face visits,” Ford said.

Nor is there a requirement to conduct face-to-face visits with adoptive parents who are receiving subsidies to raise special needs children, a program that was put in place in 1980 to encourage permanent placement for a population that was getting stuck in the foster care system. The subsidies, generally funded with a combination of federal, state and local money, continue until a child is 18 or, in some cases, 21.

But there are plenty of requirements, including a monthly roster to verify that the child is still in the home, a three-year review and a mandate that families send in documentation to show the child is being educated.

“If the documents look appropriate, they may not raise anybody’s eyebrows,” Koy said.

That may have been the case with the Bryants, who continued to send in signed documents long after the boys went missing and are accused of collecting more than $170,000 in subsidies.

According to the arrest affidavit, one document indicated that Edward Dylan Bryant was attending a school in Texas, where the family moved in 2005. The school doesn’t exist, the affidavit says.

So far, none of the officials believe the laws need to be changed, though they’ll be reviewed.

“There are over 10,000 adoptions that have been subsidized in the state of Colorado right now,” Ford said. “And the system works.

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