Finding a home

Linda Koop worries that Roderick will miss his stuffed animals.
For the past three months, Koop has offered Roderick, a sweet-natured boy just shy of three, a couple of furry critters as bedmates each night.

Koop is 31 and unmarried, a real-estate agent selling multi-million dollar homes in the Park Cities.

But this January, she distinguished herself in the annals of child-welfare cases by picking up--literally from the street--two homeless children, Roderick and his 11-year-old brother Matthew.

When county child-welfare authorities and the boys' mother failed to show any urgency about retrieving the kids, Koop found herself as a reluctant alternative to an orphanage.

But recently Koop's stint as a temporary one-woman solution to the problems of disadvantaged kids came to an abrupt end. "I had asked him which ones he wanted to take with him," Koop says of Roderick's good-byes to the stuffed animals. "He took some, but he didn't take them all."

Two weekends ago, Koop, who had mulled over the idea of becoming a foster parent, obeyed a court order and turned over the children to their aunt and uncle. The Mesquite couple had come forward after the story of their nephews' plight was reported by the Dallas Observer ["Accidental Angel" January 19] and subsequently broadcast on Channel 5.

Koop's care of the children drew attention citywide. Other local TV reporters, as well as individuals offering financial help, sought her out.

Koop explained how she had regularly gone downtown to distribute food to the needy with a fellow member of the Park Cities Baptist Church. On one of those downtown charitable forays on a December evening, Koop had first come across the boys living on the streets with their mother and her boyfriend. She noticed the family when a policeman began threatening the boys' mother. The cop wanted to yank the kids away and send them to the child protection agency. In front of the policeman that night, Koop defended the boys' mother, who had promised to find housing for her children with family.

But a few weeks later, Koop was back downtown distributing food and found the boys on the street again. The mother had not delivered on her pledge of getting the children into the safety of a relative's home.

It was cold and raining. Matthew was sick. Koop took him to the hospital. Koop's friend stayed with Matthew at the hospital while Koop took Roderick home. After receiving medical care, Matthew came to Koop's place too.

By the next day, their mother was calling and offering to make formal arrangements to allow Koop to keep the boys: Koop had gotten into the guardianship business without really trying.

The publicity about her story prompted kind acts. One woman took the older boy, Matthew, for a shopping spree at a North Dallas mall and bought him more than $200 worth of clothing and toys. Other do-gooders sent groceries or coupons redeemable at local stores to Koop's office and apartment. Her co-workers took up a collection for the boys.

During the months she spent with the children, Koop began to warm to the idea of instant motherhood. She and the boys lived in her one-bedroom Oak Lawn apartment. Matthew slept on the couch, Roderick in her bed. She had begun taking the boys with her to the Sunday-school class she teaches at Park Cities Baptist Church.

She recalls fondly how, one morning, Matthew told his younger brother, who wanted his shoe tied, to "Go tell Mom to do it," referring to Koop.

She took the two boys to an indoor playground one afternoon. She discovered Roderick, off the equipment, wandering around the large padded, colorful room, bawling and inconsolable. He had mistakenly thought Koop had left him when she'd just gone to spend a few minutes in the parent room.

But the long-term financial burden of heading a family of three overwhelmed Koop. She ultimately ruled out the idea of becoming a foster parent.

So when relatives of the boys' mother telephoned and began discussing the idea of obtaining custody, Koop and the staff members of Child Welfare and Protective Services (CPS), who had begun monitoring the case, welcomed the idea of a more permanent home with family members.

After talking with the aunt and uncle for a month to negotiate the terms, Koop and the family members met in court two weeks ago. The court signed papers giving the uncle and his wife temporary managing conservatorship of the children. The boys' mother, who declined at a court hearing to talk to reporters, has two other children living with grandparents now. She is attending a drug and chemical dependency rehabilitation program outside the city.

For Koop, the end of her mothering stint was inevitable but difficult.
It was made even more troubling by its surprisingly hasty circumstances. After the court hearing a week and a half ago, Koop had expected that the boys were going to stay with her for six more weeks, so Matthew could finish school at the elementary institution he attended near her home. On the weekends, she understood, the boys were to stay with their aunt and uncle. "The boys were going to be mine until summer," Koop says.

But when the aunt and uncle came to retrieve Matthew and Roderick for their first weekend visit last Friday, they informed Koop they were not bringing the boys back, Koop says. They had a right to do so--they told Koop--since they held the managing conservatorship. The most recent court order reflects only that the aunt and uncle are temporary managing conservators. Koop's role is not specified at all.

CPS workers declined to comment on the case.
In court papers, the uncle, a manager at a grocery store, told CPS workers that he had tried over the years to help his sister, but she moved so often that she was difficult to track down.

In an interview, the boys' aunt said she and her husband don't know whether they will be allowed to keep the boys until they are grown--thier mother still could seek to reclaim them someday in court--but that they will provide them with a good home. "We wouldn't have gone to this trouble if we didn't have a commitment," she says.

Now the uncle has set aside one room in his family's four-bedroom DeSoto house for Matthew and Roderick. And he has enrolled Matthew in a baseball league. "He started a team, just so Matthew could join," says Koop, who remains hopeful that it will all work out for the best.

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Miriam Rozen
Contact: Miriam Rozen

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