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Keeping the money, but not the child: CR joins others to tackle adoption subsidy fraud

Adoptions are supposed to be forever, right?

Unfortunately, for kids who have been in foster care, that’s not always the case. And too often, when adoptions break – for reasons such as the lack of post-adoption services, the failure to bond as a family, or aging or ailing adoptive parents – adults continue to receive the subsidies meant to help cover necessities like clothing, medical care, counseling and therapy.

Many “are struggling with this issue, because states are bound by federal guidelines of when they can terminate or transfer subsidies,” Sarah Jaffe, staff attorney with the Children’s Law Center’s Broken Adoptions Project, said during a recent panel discussion on adoption subsidies. This financial support can be terminated only in very limited circumstances, such as when a parent dies.

The panel – moderated by Children’s Rights’ Executive Director Sandy Santana – took place during a day-long event at New York Law School entitled “Beyond Permanency Symposium: Challenges for Former Foster Youth.” The Children’s Law Center organized the event, which drew hundreds of advocates, judges, lawmakers and former foster youth both on site and via webcast.

Santana explained that Children’s Rights became involved in the issue of adoption subsidy fraud back in 2009, when the organization began to represent 10 of the adopted children of Judith Leekin.

“She fostered dozens and dozens of children in the 80’s and 90’s, then adopted them under at least four different aliases, and she was getting subsidy payments for more than a decade that totaled over $1.6 million,” Santana said. “She was running a house of horror … The kids in her home had been beaten, shackled, imprisoned in the basement, denied schooling and starved.”

The Leekin case is an “egregious” example of subsidy fraud, Santana said, but it is far from the only one.

Betsy Kramer, director of the public policy and special litigation project at Lawyers For Children, said that recently they represented about 150 kids who were from broken adoptions—a number that represents almost 20 percent of children who are voluntarily placed in foster care. “For many of our clients, knowing that their parents are receiving an adoption subsidy for caring for them, and are not caring for them, reinforces the idea that they are just a paycheck,” she said.

At the symposium, one young man who was adopted from foster care said he was “permanently kicked out of what was supposed to be my ‘forever’ home.” At 17, Jaquan was working, attending school and trying to pay rent, when he applied for welfare to help make ends meet. But he said he was denied assistance because his adoptive mother was still receiving subsidies to support him.  She “kept getting paid for me, for years,” he said.

Tinaddine Turner, director of adoptions for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, reminded the audience that “there are many youth who have joined committed families through adoption,” and subsidies are “a vital support to families who adopt children through foster care.”

But Jaquan has thoughts on ways the system should change. “At a minimum, money should not go to adoptive parents who no longer care for their children. Better regulations need to be put into effect to check on the care of the child and to ensure that the money follows the child whether they live with someone else or become independent,” he said.