Foster Care Nightmare
Clark County, NV (KTNV) - Imagine losing children after loving them, caring for them, building a life and planning a future.
That's what happened to one foster mom who was about to adopt two brothers, but instead, saw all their lives turned upside down.
Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has the emotional story of a budding family ripped apart by a County system many say is dysfunctional... even broken.
Their beds are here, but not slept in. Their shoes lined up, but not worn. Their artwork hangs on the walls in a home where their spirit lives, but they are gone.
"You don't want to let go," Darcy Spears observed.
"I told them I was never gonna let go... never gonna leave," Vicki Lambou said after a long pause to gather the strength to speak through tears.
Lambou is an emergency room nurse at UMC. She also became a foster parent for the sole purpose of adopting two brothers: Matthew and Brandon.
"I am the only mother really that they know. They were 2 and 5 when they came into my care. They are now 5 and 8. Ripped from their home that they've had for three years, their school, their tutoring, their counseling, their pets, everything they came to know... and stability," Vicki told County Commissioners at a recent Board meeting.
She's been to multiple County Commission meetings in an effort to hold the Department of Family Services accountable.
Vicki: "I had a lot of hopes for a bright future for the boys and I."
Darcy: "And you speak about them as if they were still yours."
Vicki: "They will always be my boys... I can't... they will always be my sons."
In March, without warning, Child Protective Services took the boys out of Vicki's home after a live-in nanny Vicki had fired accused her of inadequate supervision and giving Brandon his brother's prescription medication. Both boys are ADHD.
The neglect allegation was thrown out, but the Department of Family Services substantiated the abuse charge due to "substance misuse"... A charge that was later overturned by the court for "insufficient credible evidence."
Despite the fact that the court overturned CPS's findings, CPS never returned the children to the only home they'd known for the last three years.
"The children were filtered through five different foster homes, separated from me and from each other in a three-month period," Vicki told Commissioners.
Court minutes from a hearing in late June show the DFS caseworker's plan was to "place the children back into the home of Miss Vicki with a corrective plan" since the "allegations were overturned."
The court recommended that "adoption continue to be the permanency plan." But none of that ever happened.
Vicki has been allowed to see the boys only once since March for what DFS told her was a goodbye visit.
"Matthew said that, um, his heart was stopped up and it wouldn't go down... like a toilet is how he described it. And he said 'now that I'm with you, mom, it's going down. But when I leave, it's gonna be stopped up again.' " Vicki recalls.
DFS has ignored Vicki's pleas to be reunited with the boys and now, they're looking at revoking her foster license.
"I believe it's to justify their decision of not returning the children. I believe it is to cover up their wrongdoing, their inadequacies. Because I believe if anybody should be charged with child abuse and neglect it should be the Department of Family Services. How dare they take these children out of a stable environment?!"
At the last hearing, the court refused to force DFS' hand.
"And sometimes, for whatever reason, they're not held to the level of accountability that we would like to see them held to," says Janice Wolf, directing attorney for the Children's Attorneys Project through the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
She says in this case, as in many others, the children don't even have a voice.
"They do not have anybody to go to court with them and say hey, stop this! This is where I want to be. This is what I want for my future."
Vicki says she won't stop fighting for the future of all foster children.
She forges on with Matthew's words from that July goodbye visit ringing in her ears.
"He said, 'my life is ruined, mom. My life is ruined.' He's 8 years old. He thinks his life is ruined. And he asked me, he said, 'how are we going to stay connected as a family?' And I told him, I'm just gonna bang on the gates of Heaven, baby. I'm gonna bang on the gates of Heaven."
Experts say the system is also to blame for failing over the course of three years to complete the adoption process for Matthew, Brandon and Vicki.
DFS is working on another adoption now with the boys' biological grandparents... ironically, the very people whose home they were originally removed from.
DFS wouldn't comment for this story because of confidentiality laws. They did, however, provide us with a statement:
"While Channel 13's viewers have been presented with one side of this story, state law prohibits the County from releasing confidential information regarding the case. If the County were able to publicly share confidential information in its possession, we believe viewers would have a much different opinion regarding the claims being made."