exposing the dark side of adoption
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Tot is laid to rest amid questions


Tot is laid to rest amid questions

Red flags raised before adoption

Mandy Locke
Staff Writer

Sean Paddock -- his brown hair slicked to the side, wearing a blue button-down shirt -- looked like he was dressed for his first day of school. Instead, the 4-year-old boy's birth family was saying goodbye at a memorial service Wednesday to the child they weren't allowed to raise.

Sean's adoptive mother, Lynn Paddock, 45, is charged with killing the child in what investigators describe as one of the most heartbreaking cases of child abuse they've ever seen.

On Wednesday, Johnston County Social Services offered the first glimpse of Sean's troubled life and the agency's vain attempts to protect him.

The agency's report shows that red flags were raised about Lynn Paddock and her husband, Johnny, seven months before Sean and his older brother and sister moved into the strangers' Smithfield home for good.

According to a summary released by the agency of their five-week involvement with the Paddocks, Sean came home from a visit in late January 2005 with the prospective adoptive parents in Johnston County with a bruise on his backside. Lynn Paddock told Sean's Wake County foster mother that Sean fell out of a bunk bed, the summary said.

The foster mother, who is not named in the report, thought the bruise was too severe for a fall and called social workers in Wake County. The older children told their Wake County foster mother that Lynn Paddock denied Sean lunch because he wouldn't jump on the family's mini trampoline.

Wake County began investigating the family being considered to adopt Sean, his 8-year-old sister and 9-year-old brother.

Several years earlier, Wake County Child Protective Services took the children because their father abused his daughter, according to court records and family. The mother then lost the children because she refused to leave the father, the family said.

An uncle and aunt, Ronald Jr. and Lee Anne Ford, took them in. But after seven months, raising the nephews and niece and three children of their own severely strained their budget. The children went into temporary foster care while the Fords stabilized their finances, Ronald Ford Jr. said.

As part of Wake County's investigation against the Paddocks, agency officials asked Johnston County social workers to visit the Paddocks' remote Smithfield farmhouse and check on the family's four other children, three of whom they had adopted over the previous 10 years.

During the first visit in early February 2005, Johnny Paddock told the social worker that "he had been told about the report and was wondering when a social worker would come out," according to the summary.

The Paddocks' other children told social workers their parents disciplined by putting them in "time out."

This week, Sean's siblings told Johnston County sheriff's deputies that Lynn Paddock hit them with plastic plumbing pipes. The boy was beaten so badly he limped; both were covered in bruises, investigators found. Lynn Paddock also is charged with their abuse.

But when a Johnston County social worker visited the Paddocks in February and March 2005, the worker found a clean home, enough beds for the soon-to-be seven children, and ample food in the cupboards.

According to the summary, Lynn Paddock "became tearful" when she thought about "the placement being postponed or even perhaps not allowed."

About five months later, the adoption went through.

Johnston County social services had passed their findings on to Wake County, the agency handling the complaint. Social workers in Johnston County never met Sean and his siblings or saw photos of Sean's bruises.

"Our contact was strictly limited to a courtesy visit for Wake County," said Earl Marett, Johnston's director of social services. In fact, Johnston County never learned the outcome of the complaint. And the agency didn't know the adoption -- filed with a probate judge in Johnston County -- was finalized.

Wake County is expected to release a summary of its involvement by Monday. Wake Child Protection Services has been involved with Sean since birth and must review thousands of records to prepare its report, said Jane Martin, Wake County Human Services director of communications.

Sean's birth family can't understand how a child they weren't given the chance to raise turned up dead. They've hired a lawyer to help them get back the two older children. And they blame themselves for not fighting the adoption harder.

Wednesday evening, they apologized to Sean. The boy looked almost brave in his short casket as his aunt bent to kiss him.

"Oh, baby, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Lee Anne Ford sobbed.

Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at 829-8927 or mandy.locke@newsobserver.com.
2006 Mar 2