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Renee Bowman finally convicted: a case study in the broken adoption system

As regular readers of my blog are aware, this is a more or less “local” case to me here in Maryland.

I wrote a number of posts about Renee Bowman and the tragic stories of the three girls she adopted as the story broke  late in Septemeber 2008 when the final surviving girl essentially rescued herself by escaping her murderous and abusive adopter’s household.

As I wrote at the time, quoting a Washington Post article,

As for the seven year old who escaped with her life, she was a prisoner in her own adoptive “home”/hellhole:

“The investigation began Friday, after neighbors on Pawnee Lane found the 7-year-old who had jumped from the second-story window of the house on Buckskin Trail, a nearby street in the same subdivision. The girl was badly bruised and apparently beaten, authorities said today. Neighbors alerted the authorities, who transported the girl to Children’s Hospital and opened a child abuse investigation.

Some time later, Bowman came to the sheriff’s office after learning deputies had found her daughter. According to investigators, “she confessed to beating the victim with a ‘hard heeled shoe.’ ”

Authorities said Bowman told them the 7-year-old was rarely, if ever, permitted to leave the house. She was beaten “all over” and remains hospitalized, Evans said at the news conference.

Calvert authorities said there is no evidence that the 7-year-old was enrolled in Calvert County schools. Bowman does not have a criminal record and has not been accused of neglect or abuse in the past, they said.

Detectives obtained a search warrant for the house in an effort to find the shoe and other evidence. While searching the house, they found human remains in the freezer.

When found wandering the street, a neighbor asked the girl if she was alright, to which she responded:

“My mother just beats me. She just beats me to death.”

A later story went into further detail:

Bowman was being held yesterday on charges of child abuse in connection with injuries to the 7-year-old. The girl escaped from her locked bedroom Thursday by jumping out a window, police said.

Bowman admitted beating the girl with a “hard-heeled shoe,” the sheriff’s office said. The girl told police her mother beat her with a white shoe to the point that it was covered in blood, officials said.

The child had “extensive open infected sores and open lesions,” several injuries to her feet and knees, and ligature marks and extensive scarring on her neck, according to charging documents filed in court.

Once the girls had been adopted out of DC foster care by Bowman, no one came to check on them.

Bowman had claimed they were being “homeschooled” which enabled her to hide her long dead adopted girls over the course of at least three years.

Their names were Jasmine and Minnet. They were biological sisters.

As this Baltimore Sun article pointed out:

Minnet would have been 12 now, and Jasmine would have turned 11 on Tuesday.

The freezer that contained their bodies was moved multiple times as Bowman moved around the state, but never in any school district was it anyone’s job to ensure the girls were still alive.

Even as their bodies lay frozen in the freezer, and even as the third girl endured starvation, isolation and beatings, Bowman continued to receive adoption subsidies, $2,400 a month for the three girls, with no strings attached, not even something as simple as being required to prove the girls were still alive.

At the heart of this case, far beyond the particulars of any one “family” lies a broken system.

A system that enabled Renee Bowman to adopt these three girls in the first place despite red flags along the way, such as the misdemeanor conviction for threatening to hurt someone, then after the adoptions, the use of a false name to cover previous entanglement with the Maryland Child Welfare Agency.

A system that enables parents to hide dead children behind claims of “homeschooling”. And a system wherein checks are mailed each month without even the most basic of requirements, that evidence that the child still exists, as a precondition to state money being given over.

The final surviving girl testified in court against the woman who adopted her only to incarcerate her in her adoptive “home” and beat her with a baseball bat and hard soled shoe. Refusing to look at Bowman the girl referred to Renee Bowman as her “ex-mother.”

Would that she could “ex” the system that did this to her as easily. Would that Maryland and the federal government could.

But sadly, the odds are, this will be treated as a case in isolation, as ‘justice done, after sentencing we can forget about it.’

The Maryland legislature is currently in session, but no bills have been introduced to ensure that children that parents claim are being homeschooled be checked in on every so often.

There’s no bill to ensure that kids adopted out of fostercare (even if DC foster care) receive any form of follow up visit. No conditions are being placed on adoption subsidies. No cleaning up the issue of outsourced background checks to streamline the process to ensure all information about a would-be-adopter appears prior to adoption (in this case, a DC problem, yet a Baltimore agency, still a lesson to learn.) No post placement monitoring systems. No nothing.

No lessons from this case have been learned, and nothing is being set in place to protect against a ‘next time’.

Nope, once adopted, these girls became no one’s responsibility other than Renee Bowman, and clearly Bowman was anything but responsible with the girls entrusted to her ‘care.’

I delved into the issue of the subcontracted home study done by the “faith based” Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church here earlier. It too, brings out uncomfortable systemic questions that have been swept aside as the case went forward:

As the District had outsourced the background check, they are now claiming ignorance of the misdemeanor conviction. This brings us to our next question, how many other people were allowed to adopt with prior convictions and what are the implications for the children they adopted?

Worse, they admit, they don’t even know whether or not the conviction would have disqualified her, or whether the adoptions would have gone forward anyway had they known!

As I continue to say, SYSTEMIC problems.

A big part of those systemic problems is that ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring the safety of the children post placement is not in anyone’s job description:

The real bottom line is that ‘the buck’ appears to have stopped nowhere.

After placement, apparently the job is done:

“Once the court decides a family is fit, once it takes place, that ends the jurisdiction of the state or D.C,” said Mayor Fenty.

In other words, a clusterfuck of no one stepping up to the plate to say ‘damnit, someone somewhere in one of these systems needed to step forward to say it WAS their responsibility or their departments’ responsibility to ensure kids are still alive post placement’.

I ended my initial post about this case with this, still sadly just as true today as the day I wrote it:

Whatever eventually happens to the Bowmans, we need to look at far more than one “family” and one house and instead work to create systems of prevention. Systems where the kids come first, not their abusers.

Going forward, it is vital this region, and this country learns the lessons inherent to this case, that this is not merely a case about individual failings and murder, it is a case that exemplifies the weakness of the current adoption system and how easily Renee Bowman exploited them

…what we do know is that unlike biological parents, Bowman went through a state-run (o.k. D.C, District run) vetting process, and was state approved to parent, not once by three times over.

That is what lies at the heart of this case

While the sentencing of Bowman may bring some sense of closure to some, unless and until the broken system is addressed and corrected, there will be no justice.

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Again, for more on this case, please see my earlier posts on my Renee Bowman tag, start at the bottom of the page and read up to read them in chronological order.

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