ori Lynn Adams was a mother of four living in poverty when Hurricane Floyd struck eastern North Carolina in 1999, flooding her trailer home and destroying her children’s pageant trophies and baby pictures. No stranger to money-making scams, Adams was convicted of filing a fraudulent disaster-relief claim with FEMA for a property she did not own. She also passed dozens of worthless checks to get by.
Adams served two year-long prison stints for these “blue-collar white-collar crimes,” as she calls them. Halfway through her second sentence, with her children — three toddlers and a 14-year-old — temporarily under county supervision, Adams said she got a phone call from a family court attorney. Her parental rights, he informed her, were being irrevocably terminated.
Before going to prison, Adams had sometimes drifted from one boyfriend to another, leaving her kids with a babysitter, and she didn’t always have enough food in the house. But she was not charged with any kind of child abuse, neglect or endangerment. Still, at a hearing that took place 300 miles from the prison, which she couldn’t attend because officials wouldn’t transport her there, she lost her children. Adams’s oldest daughter went to live with her father, and her other three kids were put up for adoption. She was banned from seeing them again.
“I know what I did was wrong, and I had to pay the price for my actions,” Adams, now 50, said. “But this is the most extreme price there is.”
Mothers and fathers who have a child placed in foster care because they are incarcerated — but who have not been accused of child abuse, neglect, endangerment, or even drug or alcohol use — are more likely to have their parental rights terminated than those who physically or sexually assault their kids, according to a Marshall Project analysis of approximately 3 million child-welfare cases nationally.