exposing the dark side of adoption
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State gave couple stipend


State gave couple stipend

Relatives couldn't afford to keep kids

The state paid Sean Paddock's adoptive parents $390 each month to care for the 4-year-old boy, who died last month after being bound so tightly in blankets that he suffocated.

Lynn Paddock, the adoptive mother, is charged with murder.

Social workers agreed to pay his adoptive parents a monthly stipend until the boy reached age 18, documents released to The News & Observer on Monday show. Under a separate contract, the state also paid a fee to the Children's Home Society of North Carolina, the private agency that placed Sean and his siblings with the Paddocks.

The money was not offered to Sean's blood relatives -- an uncle and aunt who tried to make a home for Sean, said the uncle, Ron Ford Jr. The Fords couldn't qualify for the amount of money the Paddocks received until they went through an exhaustive process to be certified as foster parents.

As a result, Ford and his wife, Lee Anne, gave up Sean and his sister and brother in 2003 because they could not afford to raise the youngsters plus three children of their own. When the Fords gave up the children, the children went into foster care in Wake County.

"We were getting pretty desperate for cash," said Ford, who took Sean and his siblings in December 2002, when social services pulled the children out of their parental home after they found it filthy and unsafe. They later found abuse.

"We started to worry about the well-being of our own children."

The Paddocks adopted the children in July 2005, seven months after social workers were told Lynn Paddock hit Sean so hard she bruised his backside. When Sean died Feb. 26, bruises covered his back and buttocks. Sean's 8-year-old sister and 9-year-old brother told deputies that their adoptive mother beat them with a plastic plumbing pipe.

With the adoption, the Paddocks got at least $390 a month to care for Sean, according to records released Monday by Wake County Child Protection Services. Sean, like most children in foster care, was classified a "special needs" child, making his adoptive parents eligible for aid.

It is unclear whether the Paddocks also received payments for his siblings. But state policy also designates siblings as having "special needs," which entitles adoptive parents to stipends for them, too.

If all three children qualified for the assistance, the Paddocks could have collected about $9,000 from the state since July.

But the adoption raised questions almost from the start. Sean's foster mother flagged problems in the Paddock home after the children's first weekend visit there in January 2005. Sean and his siblings told social workers that Lynn Paddock whipped Sean for petting the family dog, according to the report released Monday.

Lynn Paddock swore that Sean's bruises resulted from a fall from a bunk bed. Wake social workers eventually believed her. They feared the foster mother might have prompted the child to lie, the Wake County report said.

Some child advocates said this one incident should have been enough to derail the adoption.

"I don't care what the story was, when you have a kid with a bruise, if there's any doubt, that would be enough to stop [the adoption] right then and there," said Marcia Herman-Giddens, former medical director of the state Child Fatality Prevention Team.

Instead, Sean and his siblings settled into the Paddocks' Johnston County farmhouse, also occupied by three other children the Paddocks had adopted, according to officials and court documents. Lynn Paddock home-schooled the children, and Johnny Paddock ran a carpet-cleaning business in Raleigh.

The new life did not save Sean from a destiny social workers feared for him almost from his birth. By the time Sean turned 4, Wake County social workers had amassed thousands of pages of documents about his well-being.

Sean's birth parents, Dwayne and Georgia Ford, were accused of neglect, keeping a filthy home and failing to feed the children. Social workers took Sean and his siblings from the home after Sean arrived at day care shivering, his lips blue from living in a home without heat.

From there, Sean and his siblings settled in with Ron Ford Jr. and Lee Anne Ford. Ron Ford said the children were so malnourished they'd snatch food from the kitchen table and hide it for later.

After tight finances forced the Fords to give up Sean and his siblings, the children moved in with a foster couple. A year later, a judge terminated the parental rights of Sean's parents. The father had been convicted of abusing the daughter; the mother refused to believe her husband hurt the girl, according to Wake County's summary.

Adoption agency's role

By fall 2004, Children's Home Society, contracted by the state to find a permanent home for hard-to-place children, told Wake social workers that the Paddocks would be a good match for the children.

A spokesman for Children's Home Society did not return repeated phone calls Monday.

Warren Ludwig, director of Wake County Child Welfare Services, said his agency will review Sean's case but said his workers did their best.

"I think they made judgment calls as best they could with the information available," Ludwig said.

The state officials who license and monitor Children's Home Society will also review Sean's adoption, said Sherry Bradsher, deputy director for the state Department of Social Services.

"This case is enough to be concerning to anyone," Bradsher said. "If there's something to be learned, in policy or practice, the better off we all are to know it soon."

Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at 829-8927 or mandy.locke@newsobserver.com.
2006 Mar 7