Kathie Durand hugged 4-year-old Dillon and cried. The boy's royal blue trunk, stuffed with clothes, a toy car and some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cookies, was on the living room floor. The social workers were at the door. They had come to take Durand's foster children away.
"I love you," Durand told Dillon, who was the first to go. "I love you very much and you know, we're going to go into court and try . . ."
Her voice trailed off. It was no use trying to explain the intricacies of the county's foster-care system to a 4-year-old. All he knew was that he was leaving home, going for a car ride with a pleasant woman in a red car who gave him a grape candy and assured a tearful Durand that the child could call her from his new foster home.
Thus marked the end of Durand's unsuccessful effort to prevent authorities at the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services from removing the four children from her Reseda home because of an investigation into a 3-year-old allegation of sexual abuse.
Durand accuses the county of engaging in a witch hunt, offering as proof a therapist's report that said the child's complaint, which was against Durand's husband, Eric, was "less than believable." County officials said Friday that they have substantiated the allegation--made by a former foster daughter--and are moving to revoke Durand's license.
No criminal charges have been filed.
Durand's battle with the county began when she was tipped off this week that the youngsters still in her home would be taken. She hid at a friend's house (she maintains she was "visiting"), met with a lawyer and went to court seeking a temporary restraining order against the county.
The legal maneuver came as county officials, acting on orders from the state Department of Social Services, are reopening more than 650 old investigations into allegations of sexual and physical abuse in foster homes.
The parents had been cleared in every case--including the Durand matter--that the county is investigating again. So far, the county has removed 25 children from 11 foster homes, not including Durand's.
Durand was apparently the first foster mother to go to court in an attempt to keep her foster children. But after two days of unsuccessful efforts to get a judge to hear the issue, her lawyer advised her she could not make a case.
Friday afternoon, as county officials prepared to seek a warrant for her arrest, Durand--exhausted emotionally and physically--called the Department of Children's Services and volunteered to hand the youngsters over.
"Well, Everett," she said to Everett Harper, chief of the department's investigative unit, "I'm going to try not to cry."
As vice president of the San Fernando Valley Foster Parent Assn., Durand has known Harper for years. After their phone call, she said he had assured her that he would support her.
But in a subsequent interview, Harper said that although he thinks she is a good foster mother, the county will press for revocation of the Durands' license.
"It's not just she as the foster mother," Harper said. "We have to consider them as a home . . . I really do sincerely hope that we get clear evidence that nothing happened and it's a safe home for kids. But that's not what the evidence is today."
So at 4 p.m., after she had called each child's social worker, Durand took the children back home. All the youngsters are troubled in some way. Vincent, 13, is a former gang member who said he quit at Durand's insistence. Lakasha, 9, is considered medically fragile, as is Dillon, the 4-year-old. Terry, 6, is emotionally unstable and given to inflicting harm on herself. All but Dillon have lived with the Durands for more than two years.
As they prepared to leave, Vincent packed for his foster siblings, putting their toys and clothes in garbage bags. Durand gave him four cards with her phone number; he handed them to each child. The teen-ager put a fresh shirt on Dillon, the boy he considers his little brother, remarking that he dresses Dillon each morning. When Eric Durand called, the younger children demanded to speak to "Daddy."
Vincent wondered aloud what would happen to him. "I think I might be able to come home," he said hopefully. "Don't you think this is a safe foster home?"
At 5:15, the social workers began arriving, apologetic but firm. Dillon and Lakasha were sent off to different foster homes; Terry and Vincent went to MacLaren Children's Center, the county's emergency shelter for children.
And for the first time in what seemed like ages, Kathie Durand, foster mother, was alone.