Friday, December 22, 2006

Favoritism and race-based decision in Hardin Co. adoptions

Hardin adoptions prompt investigation
Advoacy groups report favoritism, wrongful removal
Honeycutt Spears, Valarie. Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 7, 2006, pg. D1.

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky Inspector General's Office will investigate state child protective services in Hardin County after a study by advocacy groups alleged that some staff were improperly allowing children to be adopted.

A report by the Louisville-based National Institute on Children, Youth & Families Inc. and Kentucky Youth Advocates found that the most serious allegation was that children, especially infants, were being wrongly taken away from their biological parents and steered toward adoptive placements after investigations of abuse or neglect.

The report's authors, at a Frankfort news conference yesterday, called the practice "fast-tracking."

As part of their research, the advocacy groups were told that in Hardin County prospective adoptive families aren't chosen for the benefit of the child, but are hand-picked because families have connections or could possibly benefit the agency.

In addition, there were allegations that white infants, in particular, are placed with families to whom the agency owes a favor or with families who have connections.

"The evidence we have is a system of favoritism and race-based" decisions, said Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks.

David Richart, director of the National Institute, said one veteran social worker in Hardin County told of being forced by supervisors to keep children away from birth families until birth families became disheartened and allow children to be adopted.

Eugene Foster, undersecretary for the state Cabinet for Families and Children, said he asked the state inspector general to launch a thorough and objective investigation after learning of the findings.

"The allegations were serious enough to warrant an investigation," he said."We are not assuming that there is wrongdoing. We will wait for the report before taking action," said Foster.

But Foster said "if wrongdoing is found, we will take decisive action. There is zero tolerance" for the type of behavior described in the report.

As a result of cabinet improvements, such as better training, Foster said there is a reduced likelihood of the problems recurring.

The six-month comprehensive review of the state's system, including a telephone and Internet hotline that drew 255 responses, showed that the problems with state adoptions were occurring all over Kentucky, but there was "a concentration of concerns in Hardin County.

"One-fourth of the calls to the hotline were directed at problems in Hardin.

Richart said that in 35 years in child advocacy, "I have never seen as bad practices as I've seen in Hardin County. It is extraordinary and unprecedented."

The advocates said they were particularly concerned because Hardin's office was the subject of a yearlong investigation in 2001 and most people thought the problems were fixed.

"They tried to fix it, but those efforts failed," said Brooks.

Many of the complaints were directed at Hardin County supervisors and administrators, rather than front-line workers.

The report alleged that some, "but not all social workers in Hardin County," had conflicts of interest, refused to coordinate with other professionals or social agencies, and inappropriately responded to allegations of abuse.

Other allegations included violations of confidentiality statutes, perjury, discriminatory behaviors toward certain families, misinformation provided to client-families, and falsifying paperwork.

In addition to the investigation by Kentucky's inspector general, Richart said he will send a letter to Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"As far as we can determine, many of the issues we raise ... are not primarily a result of actions taken by line workers, but occur at higher levels within the local and regional office," Richart wrote in the letter.

Federal officials could not be reached for comment. But Foster said Kentucky's Inspector General's Office would work with federal officials if they decide to launch an investigation.

Meanwhile, Richart said there also are allegations of state adoptions administered by officials in Northern Kentucky being expedited in order to get federal funding.

That concern was alleged by a former state social worker in Kenton County who filed a federal lawsuit in September.


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