Renee Maese, grandmother of deceased foster child Serenity Gandara, has decided what she can best do to honor her granddaughter’s memory is to fight against the abusive CPS and foster care system in California. Each year, dozens of children die in California foster care homes from child abuse. Serenity was one of these children. Her foster parents, Albert and Carla Garcia, are more than a month later still missing and wanted by police for murder and child endangerment.
Maese explains that the 3 year old girl’s death on July 18, 2010, has motivated her to work to change the system to protect children and families:
I will be the first to admit, if it wasn’t for Serenity dying, I probably would be doing my everyday life things, but now I’m advocating for Serenity. Deceased children no longer have a voice, but being her Grandmother, I will speak for her and fight for her justice.
Serenity Dead Despite Grandparents Warning CPS of Suspected Abuse
The Kern County medical examiner has reported that Bakersfield foster child Serenity Gandara, a 3-year-old girl living in the home of relatives, was found dead on the living room floor of the home on July 18, 2010. Blunt-force trauma injuries are named as the cause of death.
Grandmothers Maria Garcia and Renee Maese both state that other relatives wanted to care for Serenity and her abandoned brother Isaiah. Isaiah is still alive, but was found with injuries consistent with ongoing physical child abuse. Kern County CPS refused to place the kids with other relatives, preferring to leave them with Albert and Carla Garcia despite child abuse complaints by multiple relatives including both grandmothers.
Mom Selected Brother As Foster Parent
Renee Maese explains that after Serenity and Isaiah were taken from their mother Yesenia Garcia over drug abuse allegations, many relatives wanted to help. Maese’s own father was pursuing a license as a foster care parent and hoped to have the kids live with him. But their mother selected her brother, Albert Garcia, to care for the kids. While she probably thought her brother and his girlfriend would be good choices for care providers for her kids, she may not have had enough information to be making a safe choice. CPS went along with this choice, apparently doing an inadequate job of screening and qualifying the family and not considering other options.
When my grandchildren Isaiah and Serenity went into the system, numerous people tried to get custody of them. The kids’ mother asked her brother Albert Garcia if he could take the kids. He had a girlfriend at the time named Carla Torres.
They put an application for placement. They had 3 children of their own. 2 kids by Albert and one from Carla’s previous marriage. They were placed in their custody in less then a week.
While drug addiction is a problem for some parents, this case and others like it raise questions as to whether children would be safer in the home of a biological parent battling a drug addiction than in foster care. The allegations about Yesenia Garcia appear to reflect past drug use and perhaps did not reflect an ongoing problem.
Maese believes that Carla wasn’t a US citizen at the time but later attained citizenship via marriage to Albert and pending adoption of Serenity and Isaiah. We as yet have not found other information to confirm or deny this.
Child Abuse Suspicions Grew Over Time
The possibly of child neglect and abuse gradually became more evident over the months the grandparents were able to visit the kids. Initially, the concern seemed to be the children’s appetite and emotions indicated they may not have been fed adequately or cared for well by the foster parents, Albert and Carla.
Once my grandkids were placed, the visits started. I spoke with the social worker (Shannon) and was told I could visit my grandchildren twice per month with the parents. I asked her about the children being placed with my parents and was told Albert and Carla were a better fit and she would not change their placement. Once my son began visiting, he would take food, fruits, and juices for the kids. I noticed he would come home with an empty backpack. I would question, “Did the kids eat all the food”? He replied yes. That sent up red flags. Prior to this my grandkids were very happy and outgoing. When my visits began, they were so happy to see me. They clung on to me. Isaiah even went as far to say, “No more bye byes” and cried in front of Shannon. I questioned it but nothing was done.
Grandparents Have No Rights In California
Over time, many visits were cancelled due to alleged illnesses. On some visits, the children had injuries such as black eyes and scratches that were suspicious. Carla claimed Isaiah’s black eye was from falling on a tub and the scratches were caused by other children. Maese believes that her questions about their injuries made Carla nervous.
Carla soon raised opposition to continued contact between Serenity and Isaiah and many of their relatives. Eventually, the social workers told both grandmothers, Renee Maese and Maria Garcia, that grandparents have no rights and they won’t be allowed to see the kids any longer because Carla and Albert would not allow it.
Carla said those were her kids. She even went as far as marrying Albert and becoming a U.S. Citizen by adopting Isaiah and Serenity. Albert was even unemployed at the time of the court’s decision. I now know that that you need to meet certain financial requirements to adopt and are not to live off of the foster care money to be used to support these kids.
I can’t say why Serenity died and Isaiah and her were abused. All I can say is why did they deserve it? If the foster parents didn’t want them or couldn’t afford them, they should have given them back! Back to CPS, a hospital, police department, or even their grandmothers. This tragedy didn’t need to happen.
Carla prohibited Serenity and Isaiah from seeing their own parents, too. This seems particularly unreasonable and emotionally abusive. Children deserve a relationship with both of their parents. For CPS to permit foster parents to ban children from contact with their biological parents and other relatives is indicative of how CPS truly does not care for children. Essentially Kern County CPS is enabling and participating in parental alienation child abuse. In this particular case, the alienators were not even either of the biological parents. Yet the effect on the children is very much the same.
Their mother Yesenia and father Pedro Gandara were both at the funeral for Serenity. But they and many other relatives had not seen her in over a year, since spring of 2009. If more relatives had been involved in these children’s lives to provide both their love and more eyes on the problem the kids were experiencing, perhaps Serenity would not be dead today.
(from Relatives say goodbye to Serenity )
The girl’s mother, Yesenia Garcia, 22, said she used to see her daughter twice a week when she was in the care of Child Protective Services, but after her brother, Alberto Garcia and his wife, Carla, took the child into their home, Carla stopped the visits.
Maese believes the CPS social workers were negligent and questions why grandparents are treated as having no rights in California.
My thoughts are where these social workers minds were. Were they blind? It doesn’t take a person with a Masters degree to know something was wrong. I do believe grandparents should have rights and I hope to help change that in California.
Police Still Searching for Albert and Carla Garcia
The Garcias are reported to have fled with three children from their home after Serenity’s July 18 death in a white SUV with the following description:
white with Eddie Bauer package
17 inch wheels
California License Plate 5FLC681
Two of the children are Albert’s two biological children, Carlos and Crystal. The third is Carla’s biological child from a previous marriage.
Investigators believe the family may have crossed the border into Mexico. Anyone with information helpful to the investigation can call police at 661-327-7111.