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Audit Criticizes State's Adoption Program

October 27, 2005
By: Bente Birkeland
State Capital Bureau

A state audit criticizes Missouri's Children's Division for mismanaging thousands of adoption cases.

Bente (BEN ta) Birkeland has more from Jefferson City.

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State Auditor Claire McCaskill says the Department of Social Services Children's Division is incompetent, and fails to keep track of children in state custody.

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"What they've said over and over again is we don't know how many children are in our care. Our database is not accurate, we're not even sure what case loads we have."

Department of Social Services director, Gary Sherman says McCaskill's accusations are unfair, because the audit doesn't account for recent improvements.

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"Obviously there are issues there, but we think we've addressed many of those issues."

The audit says missing and incomplete case files force children to remain in foster care.

The Department of Social Services is currently upgrading its databases. Sherman says the overhaul will be finished by 2007. McCaskill says that's not good enough.

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"There is nothing more important than finding a good adoptive home for a child who has been abandoned or neglected, and frankly it's what the state ought to do better than anything else."

McCaskill says the state should adopt standards for terminating parental rights. Sherman says he thinks the current system is working well.

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"Uniformity is good right up until it becomes you're own problem. So we want standards we want guidelines but we also want judges to have flexibility to take in the entire picture."

Last fiscal year more than 13 hundred Missouri children were adopted. The number of adoptions is down from a few years ago.

From the state Capital, I'm Bente Birkeland.