Victorville couple in dispute over toddler
By Chris Levister –
Tommy Lee Cooks and his wife Cynthia Rosales are accusing the County of San Bernardino Children and Family Services (CFS) of bungling their adoption application and blocking their hopes of adopting a toddler tragically orphaned two years ago.
February, 2010 the child's 20-year-old mother and her unborn child were fatally stabbed by her boyfriend in unincorporated San Bernardino.
According to court documents the man killed his pregnant girlfriend and kidnapped 'Brandon', their baby boy. He was caught making his getaway on a city bus.
Following the tragedy the 1-year-old was turned over to a paternal grandmother by Child Protective Services (CPS). Three months later he was removed and placed in the custody of a family friend. November 2010 CPS placed the infant with Cooks a cousin, and Rosales.
"We knew the minute we laid eyes on him, we wanted to adopt him and give him a loving home," said Cooks
By all accounts, 'Brandon' is a happy soon to be 3-year-old with big brown eyes and a smile that melts hearts. But behind his playful disposition is a brave child caught up in a dispute over his adoption.
Cooks 48, owns a real estate business and holds a B.A. degree in Sociology, with an emphasis on social work. He said the couple, passed rigorous background checks, completed county and state eligibility requirements, completed a 9-week county imposed marital counseling program, and finished a child/parent interactive program known as PCIT only to learn the adoption process had been halted.
The couple claims on February 23 during a routine meeting with a CFS supervisor Cooks was told "he was no longer under consideration as an adoptive parent."
"We were shocked beyond belief," Rosales said. "I was so upset I got up and left the meeting," said Cooks. "They give us no explanation, no written notification."
Cooks, says days later when he met with CFS officials to clarify his adoption status he was handed a a copy of a letter written by a supervising case manager.
The December 1, 2011 letter he said asked whether or not both of us were pursuing adoption of Brandon.
Cooks said letter also asked for the couple's divorce decree and indicated the home study had been halted pending his wife's recovery from minor surgery in 2011.
"There was no mention of my applicant status," said Cooks. "I don't have a criminal background. My education background is in social work. We have the means to support Brandon. We've raised four children. We're active in our church. What's the problem."
Cooks, claims the county began a 'fishing expedition' after receiving a 'passionate' phone call from his wife.
"I told the caseworker I have systemic lupus erthematosus (SLE) (a chronic autoimmune disorder that may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.)," said Rosales. "I've had the disease since I was 23. I'm now 47."
She says she contacted CFS during a flare up of the disease. "I was in panic. I was feeling terrible about what happened to this baby. I was torn. I prayed about it. I know in my heart God wants us to raise Brandon."
Rosales says since 2010 the family has bonded with the toddler. "He knows his colors, asks for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and runs around saying, 'where's my Daddy'. He calls our son's 'his brothers'. I regret making the call now."
Rosales who was employed by the Rialto Unified School District for 14 years described the the flare ups as infrequent. She says her doctor's assurances that her illness is manageable were cast aside by CFS staff.
The couple said caseworkers demanded that they complete a 9-week marital counseling program after learning they divorced and remarried.
"We met and married 28 years ago. We were young and not ready to raise a family. We got a divorce but continued to live together," Cooks said. "11 years ago we remarried."
"They seem bent on mischaracterizing and labeling my husband as abusive or unstable because of the divorce. He has never hit me. He never abused our children," she said.
"I'm a social worker fighting to adopt a racially ethnic child," said Cooks. "If this can happen to me, it's happening to other families particularly minority parents."
He pointed to Census data that shows there are over half a million children in the foster care system in the U.S., and African Americans make up forty percent of that number.
On it's adoption recruitment website 'Partners in Hope' CFS says ... "adoption does not have to take forever. There are children waiting for a family like yours...the getting to know you process takes just 16-20 weeks. Placement can occur anytime after that."
Citing confidentiality concerns, County CFS Assistant Director Randy Schulz would not comment on the couple's allegations or specifics of the case.
He said while every applicant is unique, if there is no willing and able biological parent, before a child can be permanently placed with a relative the applicant(s) must complete a mandated Relative Approval Process which includes preliminary background checks and an Adoptive Home Study which provides insight into an applicant's character, ability to care for the child, their motivation for adoption, etc.
"It's not about finding children for families. It's about finding families for children that can take them through adulthood," said Schulz.
"We make assessments, determinations, and recommendations that are in the best interest of the child. Ultimately the court has the final say. That said, we have a track record of placing children in good homes. If there's a problem related to this particular client - "we want to address it."
Meanwhile Cooks and Rosales have vowed to keep their bond with 'Brandon' strong.
"Sixteen months ago we started out with an infant who feared the world, who suffered an unspeakable tragedy. A boy who couldn't love, trust or be joyful," said Rosales.
"We now have a bright, well-adjusted child who laughs, hugs, loves, smiles and trusts - it's an amazing sight to see."
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