SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- Attorneys helping a disabled California woman fight to raise her two infant sons say that county officials have placed the older child with a foster family interested in adoption.
The decision of the Santa Clara County social services department to put Tiffany Callo's son David in a "foster-adopt" home betrays an official feeling "that there isn't a chance . . . that Tiffany is ever going to get him back," said Clay Bedford, her court-appointed attorney.
Both David, 11 months, and his one-month-old brother, Jesse, were taken from Callo, who has cerebral palsy, soon after they were born. Both boys are healthy and physically normal.
Several experts have said Callo, who must use a motorized wheel-chair, may be the only parent they know to have children taken away because of purely physical handicaps. They said they expect more such cases as disabled Americans demand the right to raise families.
The county's decision to give David to a family seeking adoption has been denounced as an unfortunate precedent by activists in the field of rights for the disabled, who are lobbying for a new state law to help Callo and other disabled parents.
"I think the county has really set her up, and has made it very difficult for David to be returned," said Deborah Kaplan, a disabled Oakland attorney who, along with her disabled husband, is raising their nondisabled 2-year-old son.
A crucial juvenile court hearing on David's future is scheduled in less than five months. Bedford has praised the presiding judge, Leonard P. Edwards, son of Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), but Callo's supporters note that during the interim, she is being allowed to see her children for only 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours a week while David spends most of his time with a family that has indicated a desire to adopt him.
Jesse, Bedford said, was first placed in the same home, but later transferred to an emergency shelter when the family, which has at least one other foster child, said it could not adequately care for so many children.
An office worker at the county social services department Friday said no officials were available to comment on their "foster-adopt" policy. County officials have consistently declined to comment on Callo's particular case, citing privacy rules.
Bill Pierce, president of the Washington-based National Committee for Adoption, said the foster-adopt policy has become a common practice throughout the country. He said the system grew out of dissatisfaction with the frequent moves foster children had to make and the coldness and impracticality of telling foster parents "don't bond with this child, don't get to love this child too much."
Often a child would spend years in one foster home, then be removed to another home for adoption. "It was very wrenching," he said.
While they have a chance of adopting the children they care for, foster-adopt parents are warned of the psychological risk they are taking if the court returns the child to its natural parents, Pierce said. Carolyn Johnson, executive director of the Philadelphia-based National Adoption Center, said good foster homes are difficult to find and that a social worker may have little choice but to place a child with families that want to adopt.
Callo said she likes David's foster mother. "I told her if I get David back, after the adjustment period, I would be happy for her to come over and see David, maybe go with us to the park."
Callo is divorcing Tony Rios, the boys' father, after repeated arguments brought on by the strain of their situation and a fight between them in December that led to Rios' arrest for assault. Rios also must use a wheelchair because of congenital defects, and both he and Callo have had to live on $520 each in monthly welfare plus 40 hours a week of care by county-paid attendants.
Callo said last week she has begun to sell light bulbs, vitamins and cleaning solvent by telephone and is demonstrating, during her separate weekly sessions with David and Jesse, how she can care for her children. The county had retained Megan Kirshbaum, a nationally recognized expert on parenthood among the disabled, to advise and report on her progress, a development Callo's supporters applaud.
Callo said she wants to regain custody of Jesse soon, and then use her care of the younger child as an argument for David's return.
Bedford said representing Callo has shown him how little he and others know about the disabled. "Initially I took the position that she needed 24-hour assistance to take care of the babies," he said. "Now I'm not sure that is necessary."