New Jersey Family Fights for Custody of Boy in NYC Foster Care

A New Jersey foster family is fighting to regain custody of a 14-year-old boy in a stormy battle involving New York City's Administration for Children Services and the boy's biological father. 

"I am his mother. I am the one that loves him. I am the one he comes to for comfort," said Hilda Ramos. 

Ramos isn't related to the teenager by blood, but to her, it doesn't matter. Born to a drug-addicted mother, the boy was first placed with Ramos' mother as a foster child and the family "fell in love with Duane immediately," according to a Facebook post by the Ramos family that's gone viral.

The boy lived happily with Hilda Ramos' mother until she died, when Duane was three and a half, according to the post. 

The post goes on to describe the back-and-forth between the Ramos family and the New York City Administration for Children's Services and the boy's father, described by Ramos as negligent and abusive.

It also mentions the constant moves Duane has had to make, including a two-year stint in a shelter when his father lost their apartment in Harlem, and the repeated requests the boy has made to live with the Ramos family. 

The tipping point came last week, when Duane, now 14 and "struggling in school and suffering from emotional pain," ran away from his father's home for the fifth time in 12 months, according to Ramos, and showed up at the Ramos' doorstep in New Jersey.

"He was terrified and explained that his father had been beating him, verbally and emotionally abusing him, and even used drugs in front of him," the family's Facebook post said. 

The family reached out to Duane's father to let him know where he was, then petitioned for guardianship at Bronx Family Court. The city denied the Ramos' request and ordered the family to turn over Duane so that he could be returned to his father's care - even though Duane told ACS caseworkers he'd rather be placed in a random foster home than live with his father. 

Ramos told NBC 4 New York she was heartbroken when she was separated from Duane. 

"He is screaming to me to stay with him, to help him, and I'm walking out the door and leaving this child screaming, once again feeling abandoned," she said. 

"It broke me. I was totally broken," she said. 

The Facebook post has gone viral and thousands of people across the world are offering their support. 

"This has given my that little bit of hope that I needed to just keep on fighting," said Ramos.

The ACS told NBC 4 New York in a statement, "We are deeply troubled by these allegations and are actively investigating the situation to ensure that we are doing everything we can to provide the young person involved a safe and suitable home." 

Ramos is frustrated: She's offering a loving home for Duane, she says, but the system is against her. 

"I'm so helpless because there's nothing I can do; I have no rights," said Ramos. 

"I think the system has failed in more ways than one," she added. 

Duane's biological father denies the allegations of abuse and told NBC 4 New York the Ramos family has no rights to his son.

Still, the Ramos family now has a lawyer and they plan to fight for custody in Bronx Family Court on Feb. 11, when the decision regarding Duane's guardianship is set to be made.

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