The six-year fight over "Baby Carlos," which pitted Don and Beverly Collard, the child's foster parents, against the natural mother and the county adoption agency, has ended with Carlos an irrevocable member of the Collard family.
Before the Covina couple received the final adoption decree from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Sept. 5, Carlos had been the center of a well-publicized court fight.
When Carlos was born in Los Angeles in 1979, his mother, a citizen of Mexico, agreed to give him up for adoption. But she changed her mind a few months later, tried to regain custody and took Carlos to Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1981 in defiance of a court order.
Tears of Joy
Beverly Collard and her son went to Mexico to try to find the boy, and, with the help of Mexican police, traced him to the neighborhood where he lived. While searching the area, Collard's son spotted Carlos walking down the street, and the two brought him back to Covina.
After learning earlier this month that the adoption of Carlos, now 7, finally had been approved, Beverly Collard said she shed tears of joy.
Carlos, shuffling baseball cards and reluctantly posing for pictures, did not want to talk to a reporter when he was asked about how he felt.
"Carlos is very quiet. You don't know a lot of his internal feelings," said Beverly Collard.
But Carlos did agree that he is happy that his days of going to court are over, and he confirmed his adopted mother's report that his first reaction was relief that he could stay in the United States.
Efforts to reach the attorneys who have represented the natural mother, Guadalupe Rodriguez Nunez, were unsuccessful.
Carlos will continue to grow up in a Covina household that even the county officials who fought the Collards' effort to adopt Carlos agree has extraordinary warmth and love, often taking in children that the county cannot place anywhere else.
Don and Beverly Collard are in their early 50s, an age when most couples are long past the daily routine of changing diapers, warming milk bottles and rocking crying babies in the middle of the night.
But the Collards have been caring for foster children for 24 years and now have Carlos as well as six other children, ranging in age from 4 months to 7 years, in their home. For the Collards, 2 a.m. feedings, temper tantrums and bawling babies are a way of life, not a trial that must be endured and will pass.
Over the years, the Collards have sheltered more than 200 children, youngsters taken to them by county social workers for temporary care while the parents are in jail, on drugs, impoverished or otherwise unable or unwilling to care for them.
Typically, a child will stay a year or two, long enough for his parents to straighten out their lives or for another relative to assume the child-rearing burden.
Beverly Collard said she is always being advised to guard against forming emotional attachments.
"But how do you take care of a child without being emotionally involved?" she asked.
And so it was with Carlos. He was 3 months old when a social worker took him to the Collard home in Covina in 1979.
His mother, who had come to the United States from Guadalajara, was 19 years old and separated from her husband when she gave birth to Carlos at County-USC Medical Center and relinquished him for adoption.
For 16 months, the Collards nurtured Carlos, watched him learn to walk and begin to talk. They never heard from his parents.
Then, when Carlos was 19 months old, they said, a county worker informed them that the mother wanted Carlos back and the county had agreed to send him to Mexico.
The Collards said they were told the mother could not afford to come for the child herself, but someone would pick Carlos up, drive him to the border and give him to relatives or a friend.
Hand Carlos over to strangers? Sentence him to what might be a life of poverty? The Collards refused and hired a lawyer to file for guardianship.
The most dramatic events occurred in 1981 when Carlos was 2. After hearing the competing custody claims, Pomona Superior Court Judge William McVittie issued an order designed to transfer Carlos from the care of the foster parents to his natural mother gradually, through a series of increasingly lengthy visits.
But the Collards contended that the visits were making Carlos distraught and demanded a psychiatric evaluation. Nunez fled to Mexico with her son in September, 1981, in defiance of McVittie's instructions.
After it became apparent that the U.S. legal system was powerless to return Carlos, Beverly Collard and her 16-year-old adopted son Dale went to Mexico, plucked Carlos off the street and whisked him back to Covina.
By now the news media were intrigued. Beverly Collard described to reporters and television cameras how she found Carlos in a poor Guadalajara neighborhood of adobe houses, with dirt floors and blankets for doors. Although Carlos was clean when he was found, she said, there were sores and insect bites on his body.