Thursday, April 27, 2000

Federal probe of adoptions resumes

County's transracial policy questioned

By Lucy May
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Federal officials on Wednesday resumed an investigation into the way Hamilton County's Department of Human Services handles transracial adoptions.

        Federal laws passed in the mid-1990s make it illegal to use race, culture and heritage as factors in adoptive placements, with rare exceptions.

        A federal lawsuit filed last April accused the Hamilton County Department of Human Services of keeping black children in foster care rather than letting white people adopt them.

        In an April 19 letter to lawyers involved in the matter, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region V office warned that the investigation would resume if the county did not respond by Tuesday.

        The county didn't respond, just as county officials have not responded to several other letters from federal officials, said Lisa Simeone, regional manager of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's regional office in Chicago.

        “We've tried repeatedly to reach some sort of an agreement,” Ms. Simeone said Wednesday. “We had no choice but to resume our investigation this morning.”

        Ms. Simeone would not comment beyond that.

        The letter sent April 19 warned that if the county is found to have violated federal law in the way it handles transracial adoptions, the Ohio Department of Human Services could be fined as much as $15 million.

        Under Ohio law, the state agency could then pass those fines to Hamilton County.

        Hamilton County Department of Human Services spokeswoman Mindy Good said Wednesday afternoon she did not know whether the investigation had been resumed.

        “To the best of my knowledge, nobody from OCR showed up here today,” she said.

        Scott Greenwood, one of the lawyers suing the county, said he did not think the federal probe would slow efforts to work with county, state and federal officials to reach a settlement.

        “We want to reach an agreement that speeds children in the adoptive process and removes race as an inappropriate consideration,” he said.

        Based on county figures provided to the federal office, it takes the county an average of 200 days longer to find adoptive homes for black children than for other children, the April 19 letter said.


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