Lisa and Jeffrey Bodick always wanted a large family. Now the foster parents are fighting to hold on to the 2-year-old girl they've raised almost since birth.
The Bodicks, of Catonsville, have accused Baltimore's Department of Social Services of reneging on a promise to allow them to adopt the tiny, bashful child with blonde curls and striking blue-green eyes who joined them at their home when she was 13 days old. The agency wants to place the child with a Howard County family that adopted her two older siblings.
The case, which pits foster family against foster family, raises questions about the ties that bind and reveals the complications of the department's policy - an ideology shared by child advocates - that siblings should be kept together when possible.
Today, a juvenile court judge is weighing what is in the child's best interest - preserving biological relationships or keeping her in the only home she's known.
"Once we find a family that will adopt an entire sibling group, our goal is to place those children together," said DSS spokeswoman Sue Fitzsimmons, who would not comment specifically on this case. "They need to know their family. They have a common history and a shared heritage."
But Jeffrey Bodick questions whether blood ties are stronger than the bond between an infant and her caregivers.
"It's not blood that makes a family," said Bodick, 40, assistant superintendent at Rolling Road Golf Club. "It's who takes care of you, raises you, teaches you and loves you - that's what makes a family."
After several miscarriages, the Bodicks adopted a son, Joshua Taylor, now 10, in 1989. After Lisa gave birth to daughter Lindsay Ann in October 1990, doctors advised her not to get pregnant again, and she followed a friend's advice to take in foster children.
Choosing to work with special-needs children, the Bodicks took in two toddlers, whose names The Sun is not releasing, in October 1997. The girl, now 4 and the boy, now 6, had serious behavioral and emotional problems.
Soon after their arrival, the boy revealed that his mother was expecting a baby whom she planned "to send to heaven." Lisa Bodick alerted social services, which turned the newborn over to the Bodicks.
The infant was so small she could fit into the clothes of Lindsay Bodick's Cabbage Patch dolls, and her body was virtually locked in the fetal position, the Bodicks said.
The girl's biological father, who appeared at a custody hearing last week, said the child's mother worked as a prostitute to support a heroine and cocaine habit while she was pregnant. The girl was born a month premature, addicted to cocaine, partially deaf and with physical deformities, he said.
The father, a recovering drug addict who was released from prison in January, said he is not ready to care for the children, but he is pursuing visitation rights.
As the Bodicks helped the baby through - including physical and speech therapy - the boy's behavior worsened. He was reassigned to another home in June 1998.
When that home was found unsatisfactory, the Howard County family that wants to adopt the siblings was found. Last August, the other sibling, the 2-year-old's half-sister (she has a different father), joined the boy at that home.
The Bodicks thought this would let them dedicate their time and energy to the youngest child while keeping the closely bonded older siblings together. In the fall, DSS gave the Bodicks approval to pursue adoption of the girl and set a goal of completing the process in February. On Oct. 6, the Department of Human Resource's Citizens' Review Board for Children, approved their adoption plan.
"When you're a foster parent, you build this wall around your heart that says, 'Love this child, treat this child as your own, but know that this child might be taken from you,'" Lisa Bodick said. "But last October, that wall came down because [she] was going to be ours."
In April, after the Bodicks questioned what was holding up the adoption, they said DSS officials told them sibling visits would begin, and the girl would eventually be placed in the other home. The other family declined to discuss the case with The Sun, noting confidentiality for the children.
"They used us," Lisa Bodick, 40, said of DSS. "They told us we could adopt her, they put it in writing. We did everything we were supposed to do."
Fitzsimmons would not say why the department changed its mind.
"Things change," she said. "It's a fluid process. Our intention is to make decisions in the best interest of the children."
Ada White, adoption director for the Child Welfare League of America, said the organization believes siblings should be together unless special needs require separation.
"It's unfortunate for this child that either way she goes will not be an ideal situation," White said. "Siblings should be placed together, but this is [almost] three years down the road - 100 percent of this child's life - so this is a very difficult problem."
Lisa Bodick said she understands the DSS position and hopes the children will have a relationship in the future, but she argues the 2-year-old never became close to her siblings, and she does not identify them as brother and sister. The Bodicks said they are not interested in adopting all three.
"She has no idea still who these kids are," she said. "Lindsay and Joshua are ... the brother and sister she's been with her entire life, the ones she looks up to for comfort, knowledge. "
On July 6, the Bodicks, accompanied by a dozen friends and relatives and carrying more than 80 letters from supporters, went for a second time in front of Master Bradley O. Bailey in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City's Division for Juvenile Causes.
The Bodicks said they were not allowed to speak. But a developmental neuropsychologist they enlisted, Sue E. Antell of Clinical & Forensic NeuroScience Inc. of Baltimore, testified that the child would be traumatized if taken from their home, the Bodicks said.
At the hearing, which was closed to the public, Bailey blocked the girl's removal from the Bodicks' home, originally scheduled for the next day, and scheduled another hearing at the end of the month.
Yesterday, DSS notified the Bodicks that it had scheduled another hearing today with a different judge. If the court decides to place the child with her siblings, the Bodicks said they will appeal.
"If all of our resources are exhausted, and there is nothing else we can do, then God has a reason for it," said Jeffrey Bodick.
But Lisa Bodick said losing the child would test her faith.
"We made her the person she is, and if someone is going to take her from us, I find it very hard to accept," she said. "I also think I'll never be a foster parent again."