Tim Steller: Infant's death leads to tragedy for 5 kids

2013-06-02T00:00:00Z 2013-06-03T08:12:09Z Tim Steller: Infant's death leads to tragedy for 5 kidsTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The death of a three-month-old Tucson baby named Izayah Garcia was tragic in itself. But the tragedy has deepened in the aftermath, leaving five more children in foster care.

The story of the baby known as "Izzy" feeds right back into the twin problems we seem to confront over and over again in Arizona: people having kids they can't raise and a child-protection system unable to keep up with the need.

This version of the familiar story had its climax the morning of May 13 in a typical stucco home on a regular street in Midvale Park, the subdivision along I-19 on Tucson's southwest side.

Izayah didn't live in the home on South Woodcrest Drive. He lived elsewhere with foster parents - his great aunt and uncle - and his three older siblings, ages 2, 4 and 6.

Izayah's foster parents' 26-year-old daughter, Candy Ramirez, would occasionally take care of the baby to give her parents a break.

"He wasn't just a foster kid. He was our baby," Ramirez told me Friday.

Ramirez awoke to take care of a crying Izayah around 5 a.m. that morning, and left him in his crib when he calmed down, police reports say. About an hour later, Ramirez's boyfriend, Genaro Urbina, went in to take care of a disturbed Izayah again, the reports say.

Police accuse Urbina of hurting Izayah at that hour: Something caused a subdural hematoma (bleeding on the brain) and a retinal hemmorhage (bleeding behind the eye). Then, police say, he put the baby back in the crib.

Ramirez has her own two children, and when she arose later that morning to get her eight-year-old ready for school, she found Izayah wasn't breathing. He was taken to University Medical Center and survived a few more days before dying on May 16.

Police accused Urbina of causing the injuries, and he remains jailed, accused of second-degree murder. He's pleaded not guilty, and Ramirez cannot believe he did it.

"It's just bizarre. What we do is for children," Ramirez said, noting children's charities she and Urbina have helped. "For me as a mother, my children are my world."

Izayah's injuries also prompted Child Protective Services officials to take the step that broadened the case into an all-around family tragedy: They removed Izayah's three older siblings from the home of their great aunt and uncle, and they removed Ramirez's two kids from her home.

The reasons why aren't clear, in part because CPS generally doesn't reveal details of the cases of individual kids. It appears that Ramirez and her parents may have broken CPS rules by having Izayah stay at her house. I imagine that explains the agency's decision to remove Izayah's three siblings.

But what explains CPS removing Ramirez's kids is harder for an outsider to figure. I met Ramirez at her house Friday and came away with the impression of a well-put-together young woman who runs her own custom cake-making business and takes good care of her children. Besides, Urbina has his own home, meaning even if he weren't in jail, he wouldn't have to live with Ramirez and the kids.

My mind can't reconcile the contrast between the apparently loving home and the act of violence that police say happened there.

Now all five of the surviving kids are thrust into a foster-care system where they could end up living in a group home or sleeping on the floor of a CPS office because there are too few foster-care families available.

My colleague Veronica Cruz reported last week that as of mid-May, there were about 4,000 children in foster care in Pima County. That's up by about 1,000, or 33 percent, from the same time last year.

The number of Pima County kids in shelters or group homes at the end of March was 350.

In Arizona, we've rightfully been concerned with addressing the crisis before us by recruiting more foster families and working to improve the performance of Child Protective Services, which has had some tragic failures in recent years. Gov. Jan Brewer's budget request for the agency would add 200 CPS workers, and a separate bill in the state senate would reform how the agency works.

Both are stalled in the Legislature.

The underlying question, though, is why we're in this situation of increasing numbers of kids in crisis. I asked Michaela Luna, who is chair of the Foster and Adoptive Council of Tucson, or FACT, a group of 14 agencies that offer foster care and adoption services

"Kids are coming into care for different reasons every day," she said. "Neglect. Substance-exposed newborns. What's consistent is that children are being exposed to abuse or neglect. The number just continues to increase."

So why are people who can't care for kids continuing to have them at such a rate? I don't know, but I wish at least that the use of birth control measures was more widespread.

Izayah was born addicted to drugs thanks to his mother's substance abuse, Ramirez said. That's what prompted the state to remove him.

Izayah's father, Benito Garcia, told me that drug charges kept him from being a legally acceptable father. He said he has visitation twice a week with the kids and is on track to get more as he takes the legal steps necessary to prove he's worthy.

"My aunt and uncle were the only ones able to help me, so my kids wouldn't be separated," he said.

And that's how baby Izzy ended up in their daughter's house the night of May 12.

"It is messed up," Garcia said, acknowledging the situation.

You can say that again.

Tim Steller

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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