One family’s fight to provide one little girl with a loving permanent home through our affiliate, Bienvenidos, a Southern California foster care and adoption program agency.
LOS ANGELES, May 25, 2017 -- Maybe it’s only natural that Michelle and Eduardo Cruz became foster parents.
Michelle’s mother has worked at a foster care and adoption agency, Bienvenidos, for more than 20 years. And Michelle’s parents brought a child in foster care into their family when the child was nine months old, adopting her when she was five.
So when the Southern California couple had trouble conceiving, Michelle’s mom reminded them, “Don’t forget. You could foster a child.”
They took the advice and in 2013, became foster parents through Bienvenidos, which is an affiliate of the Southern California foster care charity Hillsides. They quickly became foster parents to their first child, a baby boy named Angel, who was just six days old. “We fell in love instantly and wanted to adopt,” says Michelle, a teacher and vice principal at an elementary school.
Michelle knew that the courts’ priority is to reunify children with their parents, but this didn’t stop her from opening up her heart to Angel. Four months later, the couple also brought a seven-week baby girl into their family, Leah. Again, the couple fell head over heels in love with the baby, who Michelle remembered, “looked like a cabbage patch doll with adorable chubby cheeks.” They hoped to adopt Leah too.
Both infants’ mothers had visitation rights, yet the mother-child bonds were fragile, and it appeared that adoption could be a reality for both babies. “They were thriving and loved each other, and we tried to show the court they would have a good life with us and that it would be detrimental to pull them apart,” said Michelle.
In October, 2015, two years after bringing Angel into their home, Michelle and Eduardo received crushing news: Angel was being reunited with his mother. While Michelle could feel comforted that Angel’s mother would care for him and offer him a stable home, she was devastated.
After Angel left, the couple focused their efforts on Leah, now age two. “We dedicated our time to going to court and fighting for her,” recalled Michelle. At the same time as the Cruzes were stepping up their efforts to adopt Leah, Leah’s birth mother was backing off.
For two years, the couple appeared regularly in children’s court, writing up JV290 reports that gave the court information on Leah’s well-being, petitioning the court to become Leah’s de facto parents so that they could have rights in court, providing the attorneys with additional information, and doing everything they could to convince the judge that Leah’s best chance for a happy future was with them. Bienvenidos Adoption Program Manager Victoria Ramirez attended every court hearing with the family so that she could explain to them what was happening. Each time, the judge handed down the same opinion: the court case was “continued,” meaning, any adoption proceedings were stalled. “The pressure was so intense, sitting there and hearing a judge decide your child’s future,” recalled Michelle.
But the two never wavered. Looking back, Michelle and Eduardo agree that the support that was extended to them by their families, their foster care social worker and the adoptions manager from Bienvenidos is what helped them to survive this very emotional journey.
Meanwhile, Leah had grown into a talkative, outgoing three year old. “She is funny and intelligent, and soaks up everything we tell her,” said Michelle. Leah’s life was full with 15 aunts and uncles, 13 cousins, and four grandparents. “We couldn’t image letting her go,” said Michelle.
Finally in October, 2016, the court terminated parental rights to Leah. After a tense 60 days – the mother had that long to appeal the ruling, but ultimately did not – Leah was officially placed into adoptive placement, with Michelle and Eduardo as her adoptive parents.
All that stood in the way of keeping Leah was paperwork and a court date – which was set for May -- to make the adoption legally binding.
On May 4, 2017, the Cruzes and their extended family and friends –more than 30 of them –arrived a half hour early at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park for an 11 a.m. court time. Leah wore a white dress adorned with pink flowers, her hair curled and pulled back with a matching bow.
Before leaving for court, Michelle asked Leah, “What’s special about today?” Leah answered, “It’s my adoption day!”
“What does that mean?” Michelle continued. Leah responded, “It’s my happily ever after.”
During the adoption finalization ceremony, Leah sat on her mom’s lap, holding a pink teddy bear given to her by the court. When the judge announced the adoption was final and announced to the court Leah’s legal name, Leah smiled at her mom and dad and pointed to herself, as if to say, “That’s me.” Michelle nodded back through tears. After the ceremony, the family went outside for pictures and hugs, sharing the emotional knowledge that a powerful new beginning was in motion.
The court ceremony was short, maybe 10 minutes. The ramifications, however, for the Cruz family, will last a lifetime.
To learn more about Bienvenidos foster care and adoption program, please email fostercarerecruitment@bienvenidos or call 1-800-828-5683.
Hillsides provides high quality care, advocacy, and innovative services that promote safe, permanent environments where children and youth can thrive. Headquartered in Pasadena, the agency and its affiliation with Bienvenidos serves 13,000 children and families in Southern California throughout its 33 sites, including school-based mental health offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Baldwin Park. Foster care and adoptions services in approved resource family homes serve families in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. To learn more about both agencies, visit www.Hillsides.org and www.Bienvenidos.org. Visit Hillsides on Facebook @hillsideschildren, on Twitter @Hillsides, or on Instagram @HillsidesPasadena.
CONTACT: Alison Bell