Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A woman suspected of killing and freezing her two daughters was convicted of a misdemeanor and had past financial problems, but she was still able to adopt the girls and collect a monthly stipend for their care even after their deaths, officials said.

The disturbing case has advocates questioning how the District’s troubled social services agency evaluates potential adoptive and foster parents.

Renee Bowman told investigators that the frozen child-sized remains police found in her basement freezer over the weekend were those of her two daughters - ages 9 and 11 - both adopted from the District. Miss Bowman, 43, has been charged only with first-degree child abuse in the beating and neglect of a third adopted daughter, who is 7.

She was a foster mother to all three before adopting them in 2001 and 2004.

“There is pressure across the board to get those adoption numbers up,” Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said Tuesday.

“My question is: Did the D.C. workers have the time to look at it case by case?”

It is the latest tragedy linked to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), which has been reeling since the January discovery of the decomposing bodies of four sisters in a home that had a past report of abuse.

In the Bowman case, officials in the District and Maryland say they had no information about any abuse, either before or after the adoptions. But Miss Bowman had a 1999 misdemeanor conviction for threatening to hurt someone, according to court records. She also filed for bankruptcy in 2000 and in 2001.

It is not clear when Miss Bowman became a foster mother. Bankruptcy might not automatically keep a person from adopting, but it should be considered, said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and a former social worker.

Calvert County, Md., deputies made the gruesome discovery of the frozen remains Saturday in Lusby. Miss Bowman has been jailed on child abuse charges related to the surviving daughter.

After adopting the three “special needs” children - a broad category that includes any child older than 5 - Miss Bowman received a monthly stipend of about $2,400 from a federal program for adoptive parents, D.C. acting Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said. He said Miss Bowman apparently was being paid even after the children had died.

Before Miss Bowman was allowed to adopt, she was cleared by the FBI and police and passed a background check, which includes a home study, officials said.

“She had a stable home, her health evaluation, all of those things checked out,” city government spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said.

Miss Bowman worked as an appointment scheduler at a surgery center in Northeast a couple of times, the last ending in 2000, a spokeswoman said.

Her background was checked by a contractor, the Baltimore-based Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church.

Nationally, many social services agencies have probationary periods, during which workers visit homes before adoptions are final, Mr. Wexler said. However, that might be waived if an applicant already had been observed as a foster parent, as was the case with Miss Bowman, he said.

The District’s child welfare system has been under increased scrutiny since January, when the four sisters’ bodies were found in a Southeast row house. Their mother, Banita Jacks, has been charged with murder. The children were not adopted. Six CFSA social workers were fired for not adequately responding to a report of abuse at the home months before the children were found.

The agency is evaluating its adoption process and the Bowman case, CFSA Interim Director Roque R. Gerald said in an e-mail.

cAP writers Gillian Gaynair and Brian Westley contributed to this report.

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