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Foster parents fight to keep boy in Oregon.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

TOLEDO - At first, Angela and Steve Brandt kept a diary tracking the little boy's progress. He crawled at 8 months; he walked at 13. But there was one critical development the Brandts deliberately left out: Gabriel Allred's first words, "mama" and "dada."

The foster parents were hopeful they'd one day be able to adopt Gabriel, whose future has been shaky from the moment he entered the world. But when social workers first dropped the boy off at the Brandts' 5-acre ranch in Toledo, the plan was for Gabriel's mother to kick her methamphetamine habit and get her child back. Knowing that Gabriel considered the Brandts his mama and dada would only hurt his biological mother's feelings, Angela Brandt said.

Now it is the Brandts with scorched emotions. After 20 months fostering the little boy who loves trucks and cars and melons and apples and playing outside, the couple got a final answer from the state Department of Human Services last week. Their dreams of watching Gabriel graduate from high school someday were dashed.

The parental rights of Gabriel's mother, Lindsey Allred, were terminated in August. The boy's father, 26-year-old Roberto Valiente-Martinez, lost his chance to raise Gabriel after he entered the Oregon State Correctional Institution on the day the child was born, to serve a two-year sentence for drug trafficking. But the state has decided to send Gabriel to Mexico to live with his grandmother, Cecilia Martinez, who didn't know the child existed until last summer. The Brandts are furious, as are a number of Oregonians who've called state officials to urge that the child stay in the home he's known for most of his life.

The couple filed a lawsuit in Lincoln County Circuit Court this week to adopt Gabriel permanently. They're hoping for anything that keeps the cuddly, assertive 2-year-old in their home.

"We're freaked, and we're optimistic," Steve Brandt said. "We don't want him to go."

The saga began two years ago, after the Brandts, who each have children from a prior marriage, decided to seek state certification to become foster parents after trying unsuccessfully to have more children of their own. Both wanted to adopt as well.

While the Brandts were taking classes, Gabriel was spending his infancy bouncing between different caregivers on the Oregon Coast while his mother used methamphetamine. By the time authorities caught up with her and filed drug possession charges, the boy was 4 months old. With his father out of the picture - he's spent five of the past seven years in prison for drug charges and for two counts of felony attempted rape - it was up to Gabriel's mom to complete drug treatment programs and prove she was fit to raise him.

That didn't happen. Six months after social workers dropped Gabriel off at the Brandts' house with little more than a diaper bag that had an open bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey inside, Allred dropped out of the program and disappeared. That set in motion the process to terminate her parental rights - a lengthy process because the woman couldn't be located.

Meanwhile, social workers sought out other blood relatives, citing a state policy that favors kinship in adoption placement.

Valiente-Martinez refused to provide information about his relatives. Until last summer.

From his prison cell, Valiente-Martinez notified authorities that his mother lived in a suburb of Mexico City and was interested in adopting Gabriel, whom she hadn't known existed until her son contacted her. The state convened a three-person adoption committee to consider both options. In September, the committee voted 2-to-1 to send the boy to Mexico, arguing he'd be better off with family. The grandmother, who doesn't speak English, has raised three other children, all of whom are successful. Roberto Valiente-Martinez was a "black sheep," said Ann Snyder, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.

"Think about what your family offers you," Snyder said. "Family history, a sense of belonging that includes knowledge of character traits, possible health issues. You are exposed to extended relatives. You have a web around you that offers you a great deal of emotional support and security. A family provides those things."

The Brandts were heartbroken, and quickly appealed the decision. A second committee made the same recommendation, this time unanimously. The boy could leave the country in a matter of weeks.

"Of course Gabriel doesn't know the implications, or he'd be screaming all the time," Angela Brandt said. "There's no way he could face going to strangers and not be totally devastated."

Sending Gabriel to Mexico is a terrible idea, Brandt argues emphatically. Valiente-Martinez testified in court that he planned to track down his son upon his release from prison. The Mexican native was deported to that country last month, after serving his time.

He also did a three-year prison stint for felony attempted rape and drug dealing between 2000 and 2003. Prison officials recorded him plotting with the boy's mother to reunite south of the border and find Gabriel, who has dual citizenship, Brandt said. Both parents' whereabouts are unknown.

"I have many concerns about sending this little man to an unknown family in an unknown land," wrote Gabriel's state-assigned attorney, Kathryn Benfield of Newport, in a letter to the adoption committee. What services can be offered and provided to Gabriel in Mexico? How can we assure the safety of this child if he is placed with his grandmother? What prevents (Valiente-Martinez) from going directly to the home of his mother and having contact with Gabriel? In reality, the answer is: Nothing."

Snyder said Valiente-Martinez' promises weren't deemed credible enough to consider Gabriel's safety at risk in Mexico, and noted that federal law prevents her agency from discriminating against a potential adoption based on its locale. In the past seven years, state officials have placed 11 children with families in Mexico, four in Canada, three in Europe and one in Kenya.

"The panel looked at all the information they had about Gabriel, and determined that at his current age, and given his natural personality, he would not have a problem attaching to his biological family," Snyder said.

In Mexico, Gabriel will have a "safety plan" and be monitored by that government's version of Human Services until the adoption becomes permanent.

In Oregon, he's "climbing, dumping, pouring, scribbling on everything," Angela Brandt said.

The day she got the bad news from the state, Gabriel was napping with his foster parents, but he wouldn't sleep "unless Dad has his arm just so, his hand on his back. Finally he falls asleep between us and the phone rings."

TO HELP

Angela and Steve Brandt have established a fund at Washington Mutual bank to help pay legal bills for their fight to keep Gabriel Allred in the United States. Donations can be made under the name "Baby Gabriel." To reach the family, call their attorney, Marcia Buckley, at (541) 265-5617.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; A couple files suit to permanently adopt a child facing a move to Mexico
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 10, 2007
Words:1148
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