Sammy Nikolayev returns home after three weeks in the temporary custody of Sacramento County Child Protective Services.
SACRAMENTO, CA - He's only 6 months old, but Sammy Nikolayev is quickly becoming the face of possible change in how Child Protective Services (CPS) operates.
Now that Sammy is back with his parents, the Nikolayevs could have stepped out of the limelight, but they took their case to the State Capitol, they say, with the hope of helping other parents.
Early on, Sammy's parent called for an audit of Sacramento County CPS after the agency took the boy from them.
"Big, big thank you for News10 who brought this up, who picked it up and who was helping us with that," Anna Nikolayev told supporters gathered on the Capitol steps Wednesday morning.
The crowd cheered Sammy's mother.
"That's a big thank you," Nikolayev said.
What began as the story of one baby has become a call for CPS reform across California. When CPS took Sammy into temporary custody after his mother removed him from a Sacramento hospital against medical advice to seek a second opinion, Assem. Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, called for an audit of the agency.
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"These agencies answer to us, to we, the people, and when your name is Child Protective Services, you should be protecting children," Donnelly said at the Capitol rally.
The proposed audit drew bipartisan support from Assem. Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, who is also concerned about reports of alleged abuse by the Department of Children and Family Services, the CPS-equivalent in Los Angeles County.
"The question is: How did this happen, why did this happen, and what can we do to make sure that it never happens again," Gatto told the members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
No one from CPS showed up to speak, but Nikolayev's emotional testimony moved members of the committee.
"This is my child, you are ripping it out of my arms. What are you expecting, just give it away, and don't care?" Nikolayev testified.
People came from across the country, lining up to voice their support for the audit.
"It's not only a statewide problem. It is going on all over the country and all over the world," said Cindy Dumas of San Diego.
"A lot of things are going on behind the scenes and no one's allowed to know what's going on," added Monique Pacheco of Sacramento.
In the end, the committee voted unanimously to approve the audit.
"This was a real victory for the people, for the average person, and it was brought about by individuals that came from all over the state," Donnelly said after the vote.
Moving forward, the state auditor will compare counties looking for what works and what doesn't.
"The tremendous outpouring of support for this audit that we saw here today is really indicative that something has to be done," Gatto said.
"I hope we're going to dig now into CPS, and we're going to have really CPS to protect our children, not just to walk into the house and rip the kids away," Nikolayev said.
The audit will likely take five to six months to complete. At that point, lawmakers will evaluate the findings to decide on possible reforms.