Nora Brooks believes she can be a good mother to her baby girl and wants her back.
Brooks, the mother of slain 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks, is participating in counseling and parenting classes to help build a case for the return of 12-week-old Hope, who was taken from her at birth by child-protection officials.
Police say Brooks’ boyfriend, Matthew W. Kuzdzal, the father of the infant, inflicted massive brain injuries on Eain that resulted in the boy’s death in September, just weeks before Hope was born Oct. 3.
“Nora is working on having the child returned to her,” Peter P. Vasilion, Brooks’ attorney, said Thursday.
Under the direction of Erie County Family Court and Erie County Child Protective Services, Brooks’ days are filled with counseling sessions, parenting classes and visits with Hope, sometimes in the Niagara County home of the baby’s foster parents, other times in the home Brooks shares with a maternal aunt in Kenmore.
But Robin Hart, the infant’s maternal grandmother, says that her daughter should not be allowed to regain custody, pointing out that Brooks, 25, failed to heed warning signs that Eain was being physically abused by Kuzdzal, 26, who was charged with second-degree murder and sexual abuse of the boy.
“I was told that Nora has decided she does not want me visiting Hope. This is ridiculous. How does Nora get any say over this child who was taken from her? I’m being told by CPS and Children and Family Services that by New York State law, they have to do everything in their power to reunite Hope and Nora. Are they nuts?” the grandmother said.
Hart and other family members have repeatedly said child abuse complaints they filed to try to have Eain removed from the custody of his mother and Kuzdzal by CPS were ignored. Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s administration later fired two CPS caseworkers and suspended two supervisors following a review of how the county handled Eain’s case.
A special Assembly hearing was held last month in Buffalo to come up with new laws that would make the system more accountable in protecting children. It included suggestions that those who file child abuse reports be permitted to track their status.
Hart, in expressing her concerns for Hope, said she is worried that the infant is in an unsafe setting when Brooks takes the baby to the home where she is living for four-hour visits under the supervision of the aunt.
“I know there is a mentally ill relative with a violent past who has access to that house,” Hart said, adding that it would be best for Hope if she remained with the foster parents, who are also related to the child.
Peter Anderson, the county executive’s spokesman, said that if Hart believes there are safety concerns, she should call the state child abuse hotline and file a complaint.
The county, he added, will be reaching out to Hart’s attorney, Daniel J. Chiacchia, “to discuss her latest allegations.”
Vasilion, Brooks’ attorney, defended the arrangement that allows Brooks to visit with her daughter. “All I can offer is that the Department of Social Services looked into the aunt and found her suitable,” Vasilion said.
Hope was taken from Brooks because an abuse complaint was filed with the state’s child abuse hotline in Albany on Sept. 18, the day after Eain died from the brain injuries. Family members have provided The Buffalo News with documents showing that they had made previous complaints about their concerns for Eain, who was never removed from his home.
Police say Kuzdzal attacked the boy in their West Side apartment while Brooks was away on the evening of Sept. 15. Eain was taken off life support and died Sept. 17 in Women & Children’s Hospital.
Although Brooks is named in the complaint, it has not been alleged she caused the abuse.
She is scheduled to return to Erie County Family Court on Jan. 23.