Saving Baby Angela

An infant with two fractured ribs and bleeding on the brain. A teenage single mom with no high school diploma. Grandparents with a business to keep afloat. Can CPS find a stable home for Angela Delacourt?

Susan had begun to doubt that Star was ready to commit herself to Angela, and Angela required an extraordinary commitment. Besides the overwhelming needs of any infant, there were constant visits to her sprawling medical team: the cardiologist, plastic surgeon, dietician, physical therapist and pediatrician. Could Star navigate the medical bureaucracy? Could she handle the emergencies that seemed likely to arise? Could she even show up for all the appointments?

Gingerly, with Star, Susan broached a subject she'd discussed with Cheyenne on the phone: the possibility that Cheyenne might take custody of Angela until Star was able to care for her daughter. Without custody, Cheyenne couldn't get insurance for Angela, or Medicaid benefits, or a social security allowance. And from CPS's point of view, Angela would be safe with Cheyenne; the case would be closed.

Star hated the idea. "I want my mom to take care of my child, but I'm afraid she'll keep her."

"I shoot from the hip": CPS caseworker Susan Sciacca.
Deron Neblett
"I shoot from the hip": CPS caseworker Susan Sciacca.

"What do you mean?" asked Susan.

"I know my mom."

The phone rang: Cheyenne's lawyer, calling about the subpoenas. Cheyenne handed Angela to Star and carried the subpoenas and phone to another room. Angela wiggled, smiled so wide her gums showed, and sucked her toes.

"Are you scared to go before the grand jury?" Susan asked.

"Not as scared as my mom is for me," Star said. "I'm like, Give me a lie-detector test."

Angela cooed: "Maaa."

Star brightened. "Mama," she said. "Mama."

Angela began to fuss. Star carried her to her crib, and returned with a cigarette.

Susan pressed Star: Was she sure she didn't drink while she was pregnant?

Only that once, Star said, when she was about a week into the pregnancy, before she knew.

The answer bothered Susan. This version of Star's story didn't quite match previous ones: When, exactly, did Star discover she was pregnant? At one week? Two months? Was she trying to cover up her drinking? "I'm not saying that you're lying. But these don't fit."

Susan wondered, too, whether there was something more than maternal love in Star's desire to keep Angela. "I'm going to throw this at you," she warned. "It's a hard question: Do you feel -- because of what you went through, feeling abandoned by your mother -- that you don't want your daughter to go through the same thing?"

Star answered immediately: "I don't want to abandon my child."

"But are you at a place where you can take care of your daughter's needs? Without turning to alcohol?"

"I don't want to give her to my mom. I always told myself I wouldn't do that. I'd rather drag her with me."

"Is that fair to her?"

"No."

"Think she deserves stability?"

"Yes."

"Structure?"

"That's very important."

Cheyenne returned, off the phone, a wide-awake Angela in her arms. To Cheyenne, Susan began describing Star's "abandonment issues": that Star, when she was younger, had wanted to be with her mother, even if her mom couldn't provide a big house and expensive clothes.

Cheyenne admitted she knew that already. In the past year, she said, she'd learned to put her family first. Her father's death and Angela's hospitalizations had taught her hard lessons.

Susan looked at Star: "You see yourself in the same position your mother was in? With a child you're unable to raise?"

Cheyenne broke in, her eyes beginning to tear: "If anyone knows the feeling of laying in bed crying because you don't have your kids, I know that. But whenever I raise the issue of custody, Star walls up. She thinks it gives me control over her."

"I don't want you to be able to tell me I can't get my child back when I want her back! You'll get attached, and I'll lose her!"

"Let me interject," said Susan, quiet, to Star. "Are you feeling jealous that your daughter might be getting what you didn't get as a child?"

"It makes me confident: I know she could give Angela the love she couldn't give me and my sister."

"But do you resent that?"

"No. That's not what's running through my head. I'm worried about not getting her back."

Cheyenne nodded. "I told Star that -- I don't know how I'd feel if, five years from now, Star is able to take over. I don't know if I could say, here you go, she's yours. We'd be bonded. The issue becomes Angela."

"But she'd still be young when I get her back."

"What I want to know is, What makes you think that I'd be cutting you out? Where does my providing her a stable home cut you out?"

"Where does it cut me out?" Star began crying. "I'm her mother. I should be here. She could start walking, and I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be here her first day of pre-K. I'm already missing a lot of stuff."

Susan seized the moment: "You want to fight for your daughter? I'm going to help you. But you'll set yourself up to fail if you don't meet your own needs."

Susan looked at Cheyenne. "Can I talk to Star alone?" Cheyenne left.

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