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Mom gives up fight for custody of sons kept by foster parents

After a two-year battle to regain custody of her three young sons from the foster parents who want to adopt them, Lisa Williams has surrendered.

"She does love the boys," her mother, Nancy Buckley, said Wednesday. "You've got to understand how much love it takes to do this."

Williams has relinquished her parental right to the boys so they may be adopted by lawyer James Williams, no relation, and his wife, Pamela, a teacher. The boys _ Jonathan, 6, David, 5, and Clifford, 2 _ have been living at the Williams' home in Bloomfield since early 1992, when Lisa Williams' parents took them from her babysitter while Lisa was working.

Lisa Williams garnered national attention as she tried to regain custody of her sons and was portrayed as a poor, single mother _ the children's father is in prison in Missouri _ struggling against wealth, influence and the legal system.

The legal battle also raised issues of grandparents' rights, the legal standing of foster parents and the wisdom of reuniting families as an automatic priority for social service agencies.

Lisa Williams' decision to quit the battle was announced Wednesday at a news conference at James Williams' law office. Nancy Buckley and her husband, Joseph, also were there, but Lisa Williams was not.

"She decided to do what was best for the boys and let them remain where they are," Nancy Buckley said.

James Williams said the boys' father, Clifford Williams, also has relinquished his parental rights. James Williams said he has already filed a petition in Oakland County Probate Court to adopt the boys.

When the Buckleys picked up their grandsons from the babysitter two years ago and took them to the home of the Williamses, a childless couple, they said Lisa was neglecting her sons and living a wild, drug-laden life.

The Williams got a foster care license, and the state Department of Social Services agreed to grant them custody of the boys, accepting as fact the Buckleys' statement that Lisa had moved to Missouri and wanted them to be adopted.

But within weeks, Lisa Williams was asking to be reunited with her children. Under state and federal laws that make a priority of family preservation, Williams was flown back to Michigan several times for visits with her boys.

In August 1993, a Macomb County juvenile court judge ordered the boys removed from the Williamses' home after a social services worker reported that the couple were going beyond the normal role of foster parents and interfering with Lisa's visits.

In the long, bitter court battle that developed, another judge ordered the brothers returned to the Williamses' home.

Last June, after Lisa Williams resumed visits with her sons, the Williams couple said the boys suffered nightmares, bed-wetting and other problems as a result.

Nancy Buckley, who has reconciled with her daughter after years of estrangement, said the boys were Lisa's primary concern.

"Lisa could see that the children were regressing with each visit and getting out of control," Buckley said.

"We are proud of her and her decision," Buckley said, "and will now focus on helping her put her life back on track."

At the news conference, James Williams was critical of the juvenile justice system, which "ignores the needs of children and simply returns them to the environments they came from" in the name of family preservation.

Williams said a defense fund has been established to help pay the more than $150,000 in legal bills from the court battle for the boys.

"It's even more shameful that the real villains here are our government agencies," he said.

Lisa Williams, still living in Missouri, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She has not acknowledged numerous attempts by the Detroit Free Press to contact her in recent weeks.