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Texas boy missing 8 years to remain in foster care

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By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston boy who disappeared as an infant eight years ago and who was recently found will remain in foster care while therapists determine when he can be reunited with his parents, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

State District Judge Mike Schneider agreed with a Child Protective Services recommendation that 8-year-old Miguel Morin should remain in the state's care at least until a May 16 hearing. The judge also signed off on a child services recommendation that Miguel and his parents, Auboni Champion-Morin and Fernando Morin, undergo therapy separately to see when the boy might be ready for a reunion.

The parents, who live in Houston and are both 29. They have four other children, ages 7 to 14, who are living with another couple under an agreement between the two couples. Child welfare officials can't discuss the reasons the children aren't living with their parents due to confidentiality issues.

After the hearing, the couple said little to reporters, although when asked when she hopes to see Miguel, Champion-Morin responded, "Whenever the court says so."

Mark Cooper, an attorney for Fernando Morin, said the couple is willing to do what's best for the boy and will see him "at the appropriate time."

Itze Soliz-Matthews, an attorney for Miguel's mother, said her client wants Miguel out of foster care as soon as possible and the boy's parents have submitted the names of three relatives who could take in Miguel while his situation is sorted out.

"We're hoping to have some visits start really soon," she said.

In addition to therapy, Miguel's parents will also undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Soliz-Matthews confirmed that DNA tests show Champion-Morin is Miguel's mother. Tests released last week confirmed Morin is the boy's father.

The boy has been in foster care since authorities found him earlier this month living with his godmother and her family in the East Texas town of San Augustine, about 140 miles northeast of Houston.

The godmother, Krystle Tanner, and her mother, Gloria Jean Walker, were indicted Wednesday on charges of kidnapping and injuring a child, and they may be arraigned next week, said San Augustine County District Attorney Kevin Dutton. They were being held in the county jail, and neither has publicly addressed the allegations.

Authorities allege that Tanner abducted Miguel in 2004 when he was 8 months old, and that Walker knew and didn't notify the authorities. Officials have previously disclosed in court that Miguel, in interviews with child welfare authorities, said his name was Jaquan and identified Tanner as his mother and Walker as his grandmother.

Estella Olguin, a spokeswoman for CPS in Houston, said child welfare officials will conduct home studies to determine if Miguel can be returned to his parents or if he should stay with relatives. But the final word on when Miguel is ready to see his parents will come from the therapists who will meet separately with the boy and his mother and father.

"Miguel is going to need them to be supportive and understand the transition that he's going to go through," Olguin said. "Right now Miguel believes his family lives in San Augustine and he truly believes he is going to be reunited with them soon."

Olguin said if Miguel is not returned to his parents or placed with relatives, another option would be to place him with a couple who currently has custody of his parents' four other children.

She said the fact that the Morins entered into an agreement on their own with another couple to take care of their children doesn't necessarily warrant CPS intervention as long as the kids are being properly cared for, which they are. She also said CPS hasn't previously investigated Miguel's parents.

Champion-Morin had previously implied her four other children were living with her and her husband.

The long-dormant case got new life last summer when Tanner took the boy to a hospital for a leg injury. When she couldn't provide his name or a Social Security number, hospital staff contacted child welfare investigators who eventually were able to link Tanner to the 2004 Houston case.

Police had identified Tanner as a suspect shortly after the boy disappeared, but investigators soon lost track of her. Relatives said she had vanished, too.

Champion-Morin had suggested Houston police declined to issue any sort of alert that might have drawn tips. Child welfare officials have said the Morins were uncooperative with investigators when the boy initially was reported missing. The parents deny the allegations.

Soliz-Matthews said Miguel's mother has no criminal history and has passed drug tests.

"She is a person who is going to show everybody that she is stable and she's a victim here. Her son was a victim," she said.

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