In January, a judge ruled Sykes could be reunited with her children -- if she could find a four-bedroom home. A month later, with financial help from the county, she had signed a lease. In late March she became the first mother in the reintegration program to be reunited with her children.
When 16-year-old Stedman, 14-year-old Lexus, 9-year-old Ronnique and 4-year-old Ronniesha arrived to claim their rooms, Sykes said they seemed not just bigger, but more reserved.
Sometimes the children were defiant, saying they did not have to obey their mother because she had abandoned them.
"No, you're not going to blackmail me," Sykes told her children, using parenting skills she'd been taught. "You still have rules. You still have your bedtime and you have to do your homework."
Despite the tensions, Tesseo noticed an improvement in the children's attitudes. Lexus made the honor roll with a 4.0 average. Ronniesha insisted on sleeping in their mother's room.
"It's almost like they never were taken away," Tesseo said. "They're very close with her."
Sykes has continued to attend monthly counseling sessions. She is on track to complete the family reunification process by Sept. 26, a department spokeswoman said this week.