MONTEREY PARK (CBSLA.com) — A 3-year-old girl who was left at The Grove shopping center in West Los Angeles last weekend will remain in foster care, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Attorneys for the Department of Children and Family Services recommended that the girl — whose name is now being withheld by CBS2/KCAL9 — not be given back into the custody of her parents.
Virginia Costello, the girl’s mother, sobbed as she walked out of children’s court and declined to speak on camera.
CBS2/KCAL9’s cameras were not allowed in the courtroom during the hearing, but the girl’s maternal grandfather, Steve Guy, said that Costello lives in Houston and has shared custody with the girl’s father, who the grandfather claims has been keeping mother and daughter apart.
“We just want the baby in the loving mom’s hands,” Guy said.
However, DCFS attorneys disagreed, arguing in court that “the mother is essentially a stranger to this baby. She doesn’t know her mother’s name.” DCFS says the mother hasn’t visited her child in two years.
As for the girl’s father, Joseph Merino, DCFS says there have been allegations of physical and substance abuse raised against him.
“I think at the end of the day, the father is going to be honest and he’s going to put forward facts that he can prove are true about his past relationship with his child,” Merino’s attorney, Robert Hartmann, said.
During the hearing, it was revealed the girl was dropped off at the valet area by a maternal great aunt, who the father’s family believes is bipolar. Merino was supposed to pick up the girl, but says there was a mix-up.
DCFS says Merino left his daughter with that woman in the past for days and didn’t even know where she lived.
The judge ruled to keep the child in foster care because he felt “substantial danger exists to her mental and physical health.”
The case goes back to court on Feb. 28. While the girl is in foster care, both parents will be allowed to visit her twice a week, for an hour at a time.