More in the case of New York City's notorious abusing foster mother, Judith Leekin

What Women Really Think
Aug. 26 2011 11:11 AM

Judith Leekin, AKA “Eastlyn Giraud," and the Ease of Fooling New York City's Child Welfare System

The stomach-churning story of foster mother Judith Leekin continues to unfold. The Times today reports on a new collection of court documents filed in the civil rights lawsuit against the city on behalf of 10 retarded and otherwise disabled children children adopted by Leekin. Over the course of many years, Leekin took in kids and abused them, while raking in more than a million and a half dollars from New York City.

The thing is, Leekin does not sound like a “bold and accomplished fraudster,” which is what an expert for the defense claims in one of the newly disclosed papers. To cover her trail – she’d been cited for abuse in 1980 after scalding a boy she was taking care of – she adopted pseudonyms like “Cheryl Graham” and “Eastlyn Giraud” when she adopted subsequent children. But her Queens address, the one associated with the abuse citation, stayed the same.

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Defense attorneys say there was no technology available back then to cross-check addresses. All right. But what about doing the most basic check on the background of the adopter? In a deposition, Leekin, now in prison, said “she was never asked for her passport, birth certificate or any other form of identification.” The woman is admittedly not the most reliable source of information, but if her claim proves to be true, it’s stunning. What exactly was the bar for adopting city children during Leekin’s years as a foster parent? Could anyone with an address and a fake social security number qualify?  

Leekin is a piece of work, to understate the case. She has said she is a scapegoat. During her fraud trial she claimed that she loved and missed her children – the same children attorneys say she tied up and beat with sticks, refusing them school and dental care and food. One child who had Down syndrome is missing and presumed to be dead. But if Leekin is an outlier, you still have to wonder how many others have been taking in children without the city even knowing who they are.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.