Criminal background check paperwork was missing in the files of more than 10 percent of the adoption applications checked by Alabama state auditors in 2015, but officials of the Department of Human Resources say they’re confident the background checks were actually done.
“It is a reporting issue only,” wrote DHR spokesman Barry Spear in an email to The Anniston Star. “No one is or has adopted a child through the Department without background checks.”
The Department of Human Resources was one of several state agencies that got a close look earlier this year when the Alabama Department of Public Examiners reviewed all $9 billion in financial assistance the state gets from the federal government and passes along to its residents. The audit was released in July.
The audit didn’t count just dollars and cents. Deep within the report, auditors note that they reviewed the files of parents who got federal subsidies after adopting children through DHR.
Reviewing the records of 60 randomly-selected adoptive families, auditors in 2015 found that seven of the files contained no evidence the parents had passed criminal background checks or were checked against a registry of child abuse and neglect complaints.
Auditors went back a year later and found improvement, but the problem still existed. Of 40 records examined by the auditors, one lacked criminal background paperwork.
Spear said the finding doesn’t mean criminals actually slipped through the cracks. DHR workers located background check paperwork for all seven seemingly unchecked parents in 2015 after the auditors pointed out the problem, he said. The missing paperwork from the 2016 audit was likely due to the agency’s shift to a computerized filing system, he said.
Buddy Hooper, president of the Alabama Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, said he’d be surprised if a single adoptive family made it all the way through the process without a background check. Adoptions require a 10-week series of classes, a home visit and other screenings, he said. The criminal check is usually done early on, he said, to avoid wasting time on an unfit candidate.
Hooper said he wouldn’t be surprised if that paperwork didn’t get sent on to proper federal authorities.
“DHR has a lot of turnover with employees,” he said. “I think this review is a good thing, just to make sure everything gets done.”
There’s no do-over if state officials fail to do a background check before an adoption is granted. Once an adoption is complete, the parent has full parental rights.
“Subsequent actions would be handled in a similar manner to a birth child of that family,” Spear said. “The fact that the person has committed a felony would not be cause in and of itself to terminate parental rights.”