For almost seven years, Bessie and Delores Williams have fought to keep two rambunctious little boys in their family.
The twin boys _ Bessie's grandsons and Delores' nephews _ were taken from their parents at birth. The Williams women are trying to adopt the boys, but so are a Tampa couple who have fostered the twins for about five years.
Members of the Williams family say the boys have been abused while with the foster family, and they have asked a judge to remove them from the foster home. Delores Williams, a 16-year veteran of the St. Petersburg Police Department who specializes in drug prevention, talked with reporters recently.
Now, Bessie and Delores Williams are not allowed to see the boys. The Department of Children and Families, which legally has custody of the 7-year-old twins, stopped all visitation last week because Delores Williams performed "acts of indiscretion" by discussing the case with two reporters.
"The children are permanently in the care of the department; we are acting as their parents at this time," Jennifer Lima, an assistant attorney general representing the social service agency, said at a hearing Monday. "It is within our purview to decide whether visitation continues with the biological aunt."
The Williamses' lawyers would not discuss the agency's action.
"We're under a court order not to comment to the media," said Ronald Reed, who represents Bessie Williams.
The twins _ one with blond hair and blue eyes, the other with darker skin and dark hair _ are biracial. The Williamses are black, and Maryann and John Bacon, the Tampa foster family, are white.
A few years ago, at the urging of a guardian ad litem, the social service agency refused to consider making the twins' permanent home with Bessie Williams.
An administrator who studied the case in 1994 concluded that the agency had erred by allowing the twins to remain in foster care so long, and by forcing a paternity test, even though Sylvester Williams readily acknowledged the boys were his sons.
"Daddy admitted" the children were his, said Tampa lawyer Henry Nobles, who now is representing Sylvester Williams in an effort to keep the children in his family. "But the guardian ad litem saw some little white infants. They look biracial now, but when they were born, they looked white."
"They didn't want black folks to get these white kids," Nobles said.
The boys were born prematurely on Aug. 31, 1990, at a Gainesville hospital. Their mother was serving a 15-year sentence for second-degree murder when the two were conceived and born, records say. Sylvester Williams had a long criminal history that involved drugs, had abandoned two older children and wasn't considered a suitable parent.
The boys went to live with the Bacons before Christmas 1990, and remained with them until the fall of 1993. Then, the social service agency found that the Bacons had failed to properly supervise the twins, and had allowed them to live with Delores Williams. The boys stayed with her for two years.
Eventually, however, the boys went back to live with the Bacons. The Bacons were relicensed as foster parents "by default," records show. The agency failed to act on a May 15, 1996, license application from the couple. After 90 days, the application was automatically approved because of the lack of action.