Any parent who has followed the account of Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad and his 18-month saga with the toddler he lovingly refers to as the “Bonus Baby” had to have their hearts torn out by the news this week that the Rexroads lost their efforts to keep the baby, who will apparently go to relatives.
Matt Rexroad was too emotionally torn up to comment further to the Vanguard this week, but on Facebook on Tuesday, he posted, “It was certainly one of the worst moments in my life but I feel strongly that the little boy was worth every moment, dollar, and tear. Bonus Toddler crying out for ‘Mama, Dada’ the entire time was heart breaking yet we could not hold him.”
For me, it was especially heart-wrenching because I know exactly how he feels. My wife and I have been there and darn near done that.
For Cecilia and I, we have always loved kids and wanted to have a family. We always talked about having two of our own and then adopting two. But by the time we actually got down to carrying out that plan, fate intervened and we realized that we could not have kids of our own.
In 2009, a family friend’s situation compelled us to go through the Yolo County Foster Care program, but that baby slipped through our arms as a relatively distant family member decided to take the baby, over the objections of some of the family.
Not deterred by that difficult experience, we put our names into the mix for a foster baby. On December 7, I got a call early in the morning about a one-day baby girl who had become available. We immediately responded and, while there were nearly a dozen other families that expressed interest, the officials decided that Cecilia and I were the closest match.
At noon I got the call telling us to pick up the baby at Woodland Memorial Hospital at 3 pm. I quickly texted Cecilia, “Meet me in Woodland at three to pick up baby girl.”
I was never so scared in my life when they put little Jasmine, tiny at 6 pounds, in my arms for the first time. If you think about it, when you have a normal pregnancy, you have nine months to prepare for that moment, we had a few hours.
Flash forward, the birth mother in this case had tested positive for the presence of a controlled substance during the pregnancy and, as we would learn later, this was not the first time she had had a baby removed from her care.
However, the system is set up to favor the birth parents’ efforts to regain custody of the child, and the system is set up to give priority to family members over non-family members. That meant not only could the mother get Jasmine back through the reunification program, but a family member would have automatic priority if they sought custody.
The system was long and excruciating – what started out as hour-long visits with the birth mother, twice a week, turned into daylong visits on a mother-baby parenting program and then came the reunification process. This started when she was about eight or nine months old.
Over about a six week period, they transition the child from the care of the foster parents to the care of the birth parent. First it was a night. Then it was two nights. Then it was three nights. Then it was five nights. After the five nights, there were two nights off and then it would be a full week. If there were no problems after the week, she would not have come home with us.
In a way we had resigned to our fate. We had always gotten along well with the birth mother and made plans to hopefully remain part of Jasmine’s life afterwards. I tried to remain strong even as it was ripping us apart. There was one day that I remember sitting on the couch and we both broke down in tears. It was the worst month of my adult life.
Jasmine was a week away from going back to the birth mother permanently when fate intervened. I was ironically sitting in Judge White’s court for the gang injunction trial (ironically because a year later Judge White would perform the adoption of Jasmine) when my phone went off (on vibrate) once, twice, three times. It was the social worker.
Clearly, something was going on. I was supposed to pick up Jasmine that day, but late in the day, for what would have been our final two nights with her. But the social worker couldn’t be reached. Finally I reached her and she said reunification had been suspended and I needed to go get Jasmine immediately.
I couldn’t get ahold of my wife, so I rush a few blocks to go pick up Jasmine. At first, the social worker couldn’t tell me what had happened other than there was a significant incident and it had to be reevaluated.
When I got Jasmine, she was not the same. Normally she was smiling and happy to see me. Even then we had an extremely close bond. That spark was not there. She was traumatized.
While things were changed, it wasn’t clear what was going to happen. However, the mother missed a scheduled supervised visit at the Yolo Crisis Nursery, and it was obvious something was up.
In the end, we learned that there had been a police raid on the apartment where she was staying, however, the target was the mother’s boyfriend. The mother would be charged with misdemeanor child endangerment. More serious was a few weeks later when the mother was arrested on drug charges following a traffic stop.
The process played out slowly. The mother willingly agreed to give up parental rights, which set the stage for our October 23, 2011, adoption of Jasmine, who was just under two years old at the time.
Our story turned out well, but for that one month period in 2010, she was a few days away from permanently leaving us.
Here is the thing – the social worker later admitted that she suspected there were problems once the mother moved out of treatment and was living on her own – she just couldn’t prove it. Had the arrest happened later on, who knows how things would have played out. We were lucky and the system is not well-designed to protect children.
There are far more tragic situations – that play out like what happened with the Rexroads rather than our ultimate happy ending. If the pain that the Rexroads are experiencing is to be meaningful, we have to bring meaningful change to the system. Our chief goal here has to be to protect the children.
—David M. Greenwald reporting