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For girl's paternal grandparents, a costly custody delay

Daniel and Carol Vos want to adopt their 4-year-old granddaughter, who's now with a stable foster family. They claim that L.A. County's delay in processing their paperwork has hurt their chances.

April 28, 2013|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • Carol and Daniel Vos pose with their children, Danielle, 13, left, Philip, 9, and Hannah, 11, at their home in Long Beach. The Voses want to adopt the daughter of another of Daniel's sons but say that Los Angeles County's delay in processing their paperwork has hurt their chances.
Carol and Daniel Vos pose with their children, Danielle, 13, left, Philip,… (Dan Krauss )

Two families, both loving and stable, are vying to adopt a 4-year-old girl with strawberry blond hair and large blue eyes. One is certain to be broken-hearted.

The tug of war began in May 2011, when Los Angeles County child protection authorities took the girl away from her drug-addicted mother and placed her in a foster home. Five weeks later, her paternal grandparents found out and moved to get her back.

But the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services sat on the couple's paperwork for nearly a year, according to a claim they have filed against the county. As the months dragged on and the child grew close to the foster parents, the grandparents' chances dimmed.

"The likelihood that we can get her is very slim because she has been away from us for so long and has bonded with the foster family," said Carol Vos, 45, who is married to the girl's grandfather, Daniel, 50. "But we still have hope. We are not giving up."

The Voses have three children ages 13, 11 and 9 and live in a tidy four-bedroom bungalow with a large yard in East Long Beach. Carol is a full-time homemaker and Daniel is a union ironworker. A small room with a bay window awaits their granddaughter. Her red wagon sits on the front porch.

But because of the county's alleged blunder, the girl may be adopted by her foster family. A juvenile dependency court must decide what is in her best interest, and the fact that she has lived with the other family for nearly two years will strongly weigh in their favor, lawyers involved in such cases said.

Donnie Cox, the lawyer who filed the claim (a precursor to a lawsuit), said the Voses almost certainly would have their granddaughter now if the county had followed the law — first by looking for relatives who wanted the child and then by processing the paperwork in a timely fashion.

"The county dropped the ball, and as a result, these people are going to lose their granddaughter, and a little girl is going to lose her family," Cox said.

The girl is the daughter of Daniel's son, whose mother died when he was 7. The son was an addict and is now in jail, Carol said. He and the child's mother are expected to lose all parental rights, possibly as early as Monday during a scheduled court hearing.

Neil Zanville, a spokesman for children's services, said he could not comment on the case. But he said the agency does try to place children with relatives when possible.

"It is our policy, first and foremost, when we move children from caregivers, that we will ask about blood relatives who are available," Zanville said. "If the relatives don't pan out for any reason, the children would go to a foster home."

The foster parents did not respond to requests for an interview, and their attorney refused to comment. A lawyer for the county did not return requests for comment.

Carol said she learned something was amiss when the girl's mother stopped returning her phone calls. Carol went to the girl's home twice — only a couple of miles away — but no one answered the door.

Daniel's son later told him that the child was in foster care. Carol said she immediately began making telephone calls, and within 40 minutes had the girl's social worker on the line.

"Her first words to me were, 'Who are you? Where did you come from?'" Vos said.

During their first appointment the next week, the Voses expressed their desire to adopt their granddaughter. Carol said the social worker was discouraging. "I hate to take her out of the home she is in," Carol quoted the social worker as saying. "She is in a really good home with good people."

Daniel, a recovered addict, told the county worker that he had a 20-year-old record for drug possession and a battery conviction for brawling. "My sobriety date is Oct. 10, and it will be 20 years," he said.

The couple said they gave the social worker everything she requested, including multiple letters of recommendation and copies of Daniel's court records. Carol said she attended the hearings and regularly called the social worker to find out the status of their application. She said she was always told that it was under review.

After waiting nearly a year for approval, the grandparents learned from a second social worker that their application had not been processed, Carol said. The first social worker had retired.

With a new social worker on the case, the Voses' application process moved swiftly. The couple also hired lawyers, a step they wish they had taken earlier.

But county social workers have told the court that the girl has bonded with her foster family, and a court commissioner has so far ruled in favor of the foster parents.

"We are a stable family, a good family," Carol Vos said. "How can they take her and just drop her into someone else's family?"

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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