SCRIPT: Foster Care Revisited 12/05

Maybe some of the happiest childhood memories involve the Christmas holidays, but that's not the case for a family of kids we met sometime back. There were no visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads. There were only memories of abandonment and much worse. But this Christmas, we checked back with them. Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross has tidings of comfort and joy.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS

Christmas will be different this year for the children who live in this house.

KATHY RODRIGUEZ, MOTHER

They didn't have Christmas before. They were deprived Christmas their whole life.

BRIAN ROSS

But not anymore. There now seems to be a happy ending to the harrowing story for these five brothers and a sister, who were orphans until Rod and Kathy Rodriguez adopted them.

JORDAN RODRIGUEZ, SON

Now that I have, you know, a real mother and father, it's great.

BRIAN ROSS

Jesse and Jordan, Joey and Toby and Robbie and Suzanna have somehow managed to stick together and survive.

SUZANNA RODRIGUEZ, DAUGHTER

We did it.

BRIAN ROSS

Despite a childhood of cruelty at the hands of foster parents who seem right out of Charles Dickens.

KATHY RODRIGUEZ, MOTHER

Christmas came to mean another beating, another disappointment, another letdown.

ROD RODRIGUEZ, FATHER

What they've gone through is a serious crime. And I don't know how any adult could do that to any child or any other person, for that matter.

BRIAN ROSS

'20/20" first told the children's story three years ago when they had just escaped from the foster home where they say they were beaten and tortured.

JORDAN RODRIGUEZ

They would hit us with their hands, or...

SUZANNA RODRIGUEZ

Or with the belt.

BRIAN ROSS

You remember the belt?

SUZANNA RODRIGUEZ

Yeah, it hurt.

BRIAN ROSS

It was a damning indictment, in their own sad words, of the Florida officials who took them away from their natural mother, an alcoholic, and left them unchecked for months at a time in the hands of strangers.

JOEY RODRIGUEZ, SON

I used to think every night I wish I was dead so I didn't have to be in this stupid place, in this stupid room.

BRIAN ROSS

You really wished you were dead?

JOEY RODRIGUEZ

Yeah.

BRIAN ROSS

The state of Florida put them in this house where their foster mother locked them in a small room, barren but for sheets on the floor. They ate out of dog bowls.

TOBY RODRIGUEZ, SON

Most of the time we slept on the floor, or you'd wake up in the middle of the night shivering. It was really cold.

SUZANNA RODRIGUEZ

Cockroaches came out of the ground, of the wall and out of the vents. It scared me a lot, and no teddy bears at all.

BRIAN ROSS

No teddy bears?

SUZANNA RODRIGUEZ

No, no.

BRIAN ROSS

This was the woman they were told to call mom, Jacqueline Lynch, who received $150,000 as a foster mother even after one of her own children had been taken away from her by the state because of allegations of physical and sexual abuse in her home.

HOWARD TALENFELD, CHILDREN'S RIGHTS LAWYER

Time after time, the bells went off that this was a dangerous home.

BRIAN ROSS

Children's rights lawyer Howard Talenfeld says Florida officials simply ignored Mrs. Lynch's background.

HOWARD TALENFELD

One of their children was taken. Two were under protective supervision, and she had actually to avoid the department itself, had fled the jurisdiction of the state of Florida. There had been a statewide alert put out, and when she came back, they licensed her and her husband as foster parents.

BRIAN ROSS

For almost two years, no state caseworker ever came to inspect the Lynch home. And even after the state received reports from a school and a court-appointed guardian about possible abuse, the caseworkers continued to file reports with "nothing but high praise" for the Lynches, "excellent foster parents," "a secure, loving home."

JORDAN RODRIGUEZ

When they hit us, they'd say it's your fault that you're getting hit because you're retarded and stuff like that.

BRIAN ROSS

And do you think most children live this way?

ROBBIE RODRIGUEZ, SON

Yeah.

BRIAN ROSS

You do?

BRIAN ROSS

In addition to the beatings, the children described sadistic punishment. Several of them said the foster mother's teenage son taped them into large plastic crates like this one and then dumped them into the swimming pool.

JORDAN RODRIGUEZ

It was scary because you couldn't get out, trying to hold your breath, but you can't.

BRIAN ROSS

And you'd sink to the bottom of the pool?

JORDAN RODRIGUEZ

Yeah.

KATHY RODRIGUEZ

And they kept a hold of the rope, and they would wait till the last minute to pull them out and decide they could live.

BRIAN ROSS

The others stood by helplessly.

JESSE RODRIGUEZ, SON

I just wanted to stop it, but I couldn't.

BRIAN ROSS

Finally, more than five years after they were placed in the Lynch home, someone called a child abuse hotline, and the police responded.

JOEY RODRIGUEZ

These people showed up at our house, and then big fat Jackie said, "Hurry up, get the clothes on the kids, there are some people here." And then we got clothes on, and then the next thing you know we were put in these vans, and then we were drove off to different houses.

BRIAN ROSS

But the law did little to Jackie Lynch. We found her three years ago running a restaurant in a small town in Alabama where she and her husband moved after prosecutors permitted her to plead no contest to just one misdemeanor count of child neglect. She was put on one-year probation and ordered to pay court costs of only $140.

BRIAN ROSS

I'm Brian Ross. ABC News, "20/20."

FRANK LYNCH, FORMER FOSTER PARENT

What in the world is "20/20" doing here?

BRIAN ROSS

Well, I think you know, don't you? The case in Florida?

JACKIE LYNCH, FORMER FOSTER PARENT

Oh.

BRIAN ROSS

You know what I'm talking about?

JACKIE LYNCH

Yeah.

BRIAN ROSS

You like to talk about it?

JACKIE LYNCH

We'll go outside and discuss it.

BRIAN ROSS

Okay.

FRANK LYNCH

What's this about?

BRIAN ROSS

We'll go outside and discuss it.

BRIAN ROSS

The Lynches told "20/20" they had nothing to say about the six children that were once theirs.

BRIAN ROSS

What happened to those children? They say that you tortured them.

JACKIE LYNCH

Oh, I have nothing to say.

BRIAN ROSS

You have nothing to say?

JACKIE LYNCH

No.

BRIAN ROSS

And then Frank Lynch ordered me off the property.

FRANK LYNCH

Don't take no damn pictures around here of me, okay? I'll break the damn thing in a heartbeat.

BRIAN ROSS

Mrs. Lynch, is there anything you want to say?

FRANK LYNCH

Your damn camera, taking pictures of me, you understand what I'm saying?

BRIAN ROSS

All right.

FRANK LYNCH

Well, then get the damn camera out of here.

BRIAN ROSS

All right.

BRIAN ROSS

Watching this confrontation turns out to have been a major turning point in the lives of the children.

KATHY RODRIGUEZ

You faced a monster. You faced their demon.

ROD RODRIGUEZ

They thought that people didn't believed what had gone on. When you went on TV, and you faced their previous parents, you just made sure that they know now people do believe them.

KATHY RODRIGUEZ

You're their hero. You're the tough guy. You came in, in the end and proved to everybody that this really did happen.

BRIAN ROSS

Of course, the real heroes are the children, who found the courage to stay together despite the adults who abandoned them to cruelty.

JESSE RODRIGUEZ

I don't want to read in like, the newspaper or hear on the news that it happened to someone else. I wanted us to be, like, the last, last people it happened to.

BRIAN ROSS

So this will be an especially happy Christmas for these six children, finally safe in a home with a mom and dad who love them.

ROBBIE RODRIGUEZ

It makes me feel very happy.

SUZANNA RODRIGUEZ

I love to be with them all the time.

JORDAN RODRIGUEZ

You know, we didn't have a Christmas, so, you know, it's now, you know, it's great. Every time it comes around the corner, it's like, yes, it's Christmas, you know?

ROD RODRIGUEZ

All right. Get ready now. Big smiles. And one, two, three.

FAMILY

Merry Christmas.

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