Custody Battle

Former childcare provider Sylvia Vasquez, already charged with
child abuse involving three of her four adopted children, faced
additional abuse charges Monday after the court learned that
Vasquez’s digital camera contained “several lascivious, nude, or
partially nude photos” of her 12-year-old adopted daughter. Vasquez
was arrested on January 6 when child protective service workers and
sheriff’s deputies found three adopted children ranging in age from
6 to 14 living in squalid conditions at her Foothill Road
residence; a 14-year-old boy was confined to a downstairs closet
with a bucket for a toilet, while a 10-year-old girl was apparently
sleeping in a crudely constructed cage.

In light of the nude photo revelations, Judge Joseph Lodge
imposed tighter restrictions on Vasquez’s movements and ability to
communicate with her four children—currently in protective
custody—or any other witnesses in the case. “[The case] seems to
have gotten much more serious,” Lodge said. And given new reports
that Vasquez, who owns three residential properties in Santa
Barbara, also owns four condominiums in Mexico, Lodge said, “She
[Vasquez] might feel it’s time to go to Mexico.”

On Tuesday, attorney Michael Cooney, representing the Santa
Barbara News-Press and KEYT News, persuaded Judge Ochoa to unseal
affidavits for a search warrant of Vasquez’s home and the bail
report assessing whether Vasquez posed a flight risk. According to
the contents of those affidavits, the 6-year-old girl reported she
was fed nothing but peanut butter; the 14-year-old boy was locked
downstairs and forbidden from playing with the other children
because he was “sick,” according to Vasquez. Meanwhile, the
12-year-old girl, who lived in a comfortable bedroom upstairs, told
authorities that Vasquez warned her that the other children were
“dangerous and manipulative” and that they would “stick things in
her private parts.” In addition, the search warrant yielded
allegations offered by a Child Protective Services worker claiming
that, years earlier, Vasquez passed herself off as a social worker
in Mexico and abducted several children there in separate
incidents; those children were reportedly returned to Mexico.

Vasquez’s attorneys, Catherine Swyson and Robert Sanger, were
not available for comment. But as Vasquez emerged from court
Monday, her eldest son William blistered prosecuting attorney Joyce
Dudley as “an evil lady telling a lot of lies.” As Vasquez wiped
away tears, her son William claimed that Vasquez’s children, at
least three of them, had been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment
Disorder (RAD), adding that their separation from Vasquez would
make matters worse. Sometimes mistaken for autism, RAD is a
recognized affliction common to abused and foster children who
never forged fundamental human bonds with adult caregivers or
parents. Medical journals describe RAD as “markedly disturbed and
developmentally inappropriate social relatedness in most contexts”
resulting from “grossly pathological care.” Individuals with RAD
have been described as “affectionless psychopaths”; experts say
it’s not uncommon for those with RAD to be highly manipulative and

Friends of Vasquez contended the former childcare provider
struggled heroically to deal with an impossible situation, even
sending her 14-year-old adopted son off for an 18-month stint at a
private institution in Utah specializing in behavioral problems.
Vasquez’s father, Juvenal Vasquez, issued a statement demanding,
“Why wasn’t my daughter given special counsel and help in the
difficult task of raising these children? I was present when a
Christian psychologist said there was no cure for this disorder.
But my daughter, loving them so much, attempted to rehabilitate
them in the best way she knew. For that genuine act of love, she is
paying a terrible price.”

Leaving the courthouse Tuesday, Vasquez insisted she sought help
for her children and was ignored. “No one wanted to help,” she
complained. But according to Anna Kokotovic of nonprofit agency
Child Abuse Listening and Mediation (CALM), her agency operates two
programs that might have provided help. RAD, said Kokotovic, is a
serious but not insoluble personality problem typically triggered
by abuse, neglect, and multiple foster-home placements by an early
age. “We have intensive homecare programs for [RAD kids]. Wherever
and whenever the need arises, we’re prepared 24/7 to do whatever it
takes.” Currently, CALM is working with roughly 10 families dealing
with RAD issues. Vasquez, said Kokotovic, has never approached CALM
for help.

Vasquez is next scheduled to appear in court on February 17 to
set the date for the preliminary hearing.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.