Judge removes South Florida boy from foster family despite state’s recommendation

For nearly his whole life, Joshua Sistrunk has lived in one home with the only set of parents he's ever known.

When he was just 10 weeks old, Joshua's mother died of a heroin overdose. At the same time, Joshua's father, Steven Sistrunk, was arrested for drug possession, leaving Steven's mother, Terri Laing, as his closest relative.

But shortly afterwards, Laing made clear to Steven's cousin, Ron Roberts, and his wife Sonja that she was unprepared to take custody of young Joshua.

"I can't. I can't do it," Sonja Roberts recalls Laing saying. "I don't have the energy."

The Roberts family agreed to care for Joshua until Sistrunk was legally clear to get his son back. But that never happened.

Sistrunk's record shows arrests for cocaine, pills and heroin. On top of that, Sistrunk was arrested again on Monday in Davie for grand theft auto, and he is also facing charges in Hendry County for sexual assault of a minor.

The state of Florida eventually moved to strip Sistrunk of parental rights so the Roberts could adopt Joshua.

"We didn't want his life interrupted again," Roberts told Local 10 News. "He's now had stability. He had a home."

However, Sistrunk signed over his parental rights to Laing.

"She would never text us for over two-and-a-half years, 'How is he?'" Roberts said. "And then all of the sudden she wants to adopt him?"

Laing herself has a criminal background, starting when she was arrested in 2012 in Santa Rosa County, where she completed a court-ordered program after punching a woman twice in the face.

In May, Laing called deputies to her home in Davie after a fight with her live-in boyfriend became violent.

The home in question is in a 55-and-older mobile home park.

In March 2016, the Child's Best Hope Act was signed into law to give state judges more leeway to rule on what's best for the child. The state has pushed to stop parents with felony charges from having the final say on who adopts their child.

State agencies argued on the Roberts' behalf, telling the court that Laing was not qualified to adopt. But the judge in the case disagreed, granting custody to Laing, saying, "The court does not and cannot compare ... foster parents to the prospective adoptive parent."

"It's not fair," Ron Roberts said. "It doesn't make any sense."

"Although I cannot comment on individual cases in dependency," Alan Abramowitz, executive director of Florida's guardian ad litem program. "The current law on adoption intervention gives the judge the authority and responsibility to compare as required by child's best hope act."

Local 10 contacted Laing for comment, but a knock on her door went unanswered.

Laing's attorney said the judge ruled on what was best for Joshua and the adoption is now final. 

Despite the judge's order that the Roberts be allowed weekly visits with Joshua, the couple said they have not been allowed to see the boy since they handed him over in July.

Ron Roberts now hopes to bring to light those children that are falling through the cracks despite the new law.

"You become so attached to these children and they can just pull them away for no reason -- without a fight, without an argument, without a comparison," he said.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from News | WPLG, and written by News | WPLG. Read the original article here.