Investigators: Grandparents passed over in favor of foster care
11:46 AM PST on Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News
ENUMCLAW, Wash. - From day one Doug and AnneMarie Stuth of Enumclaw
adored the new baby in
"It was a very exciting time. She was the center of our world,"
AnneMarie Stuth said.
But the Stuths aren't the baby girl’s parents; they're her
grandparents. Their troubled teenage daughter
had her at 16. Then she relied on her parents to help raise the baby.
"I was the first one to hold my granddaughter and I was the first one
to kiss her,” Doug Stuth said. “So
yeah, we have a tight bond."
When the baby was 9 months old, things unraveled. The teen mom moved
out of her parents' home
along with the baby. While living away from the Stuths, the baby lost
weight. A doctor's appointment
led to a call to Child Protective Services. The doctor reported the
teenage mother let her child get
“It’s like your whole world comes crashing down,” AnneMarie Stuth
Enumclaw police put the child in protective custody with the Stuths
The grandparents raised the child for months and received glowing
reports. One officer of the court
wrote: "She's fortunate to have her grandparents as a safety net."
"Our granddaughter always came first,” Doug Stuth said. “She’s a
little baby. She needs someone to
protect her and take care of her and that’s what we did.”
Reuniting the baby with her mother was the goal. Caseworkers placed
the two in transitional housing for
young moms. That didn't work. The teenager got kicked out of the
programs and lost her daughter again.
But this time, instead of going back to grandma and grandpa, state
workers put the baby in foster care.
The Stuths were devastated. The child’s daycare providers gave them
“(They tell me) that she cries for me," Doug Stuth said. “You have no
idea (how hard it is)."
Why didn't the baby go back to the grandparents? Most people would
think there must be something
very wrong with them, such as reports of abuse or neglect. Perhaps
they have criminal records, drug
problems, or a history of unemployment? None of those things are true.
So we dug a little deeper. The King 5 Investigators looked at hundreds
of documents written by people
making decisions on the case.
A court-appointed advocate for the baby wrote the Stuths were selfish,
hyper-critical, and were derailing
their daughter's parenting efforts. One example cited over and over in
legal papers: They gave the child
a pacifier, or binky, which was against the young mom's wishes.
"You would not believe how many times that darn binky was brought up
in court and in paperwork over
the stupid binky!" AnneMarie Stuth said.
A social worker also wrote the grandparents refused to financially
support their daughter. But we have
copies of dozens of cancelled checks which show the Stuths were giving
their daughter money.
They were also accused of being unwilling to drive the child for
visits with the mom. But mileage
reimbursement records show the state was paying the grandparents for
driving hundreds of miles a
month so the child could see her mother.
"I've never seen people so hell bent on destroying one family,”
Washington law is clear: If a child can't be with parents, relatives
must be considered before foster care.
Later this month a judge is
expected to rule on the fate of
Doug and AnneMarie Stuth's
grandchild, pictured here. She is
now 3 years old.
"The department (DSHS) is making greater efforts, absolutely," State
Family and Children Ombudsman
Mary Meinig said.
Meinig’s office investigates dozens of child custody complaints from
relatives every year. She says
DSHS is doing better at placing kids with relatives, but that state
workers are not always following the law.
"When you have children who are not at risk and they are bonded to
their relative, you want them there,”
Meinig said. “You don't want them re-traumatized by removing from
The Stuths think they were flagged as trouble-makers because they
complained, a lot, about what was
happening. They even called their senator, Pam Roach, who rattled
cages in Olympia over the case.
"I'm trying to right something that I think is wrong," Sen. Roach
said. “I think it’s important that the
state realize that it’s doing something very damaging to this little
Roach lobbied to get the Stuths visits with their granddaughter.
They’d been told by the child’s court
advocate there was a court order forbidding them to see her. But we’ve
found there was no such court
order. They should have been allowed to see her all along.
"It's heartbreaking why any state would want to step between a family
tie like that and try to sever that
bond," AnneMarie said.
A judge ordered there should be visits and last month KING 5 was there
for one of them. The child, now
3 years old, lit up upon seeing her grandparents in the parking lot
where the supervised visit was to take
"To see the excitement in her eyes and know how we feel inside,”
AnneMarie said, “there's no way to
put that into words."
DSHS officials couldn’t answer specific questions about the Stuths'
situation because it’s part of an
ongoing case. But speaking in general terms, Cheryl Stephani, who
heads up all child welfare programs
at DSHS, told us: “The first requirement is that any placement be in
the best interest of the child.”
Stephani also says custody cases are never as simple as they appear.
"It's easy to sit back and say, oh, I know exactly how that should
have gone,” Stephani said. “But when
you're in the midst of it, there really are a lot of folks who have
the best interests of the child at heart but
there are a lot of different viewpoints."
One high ranking DSHS official thinks the case hasn’t been handled
correctly. We've obtained an
internal state e-mail where the administrator writes: “If we don't
(place the child) with a relative there
will be a lot of explaining to do."
Later this month a judge is expected to rule on the fate of the little
girl. The young mother is fighting to
get her back, and the grandparents support that goal. State social
workers have pushed to have her
adopted by the foster mother, saying the little girl is very bonded to
During this turbulent year and a half, the Stuths have left their
granddaughter's room untouched in their
Enumclaw home. Her clothes, toys and blankets sit empty in a pretty
pink room. It’s hard to go in, so
they usually have the door closed.
"You look at different things and you remember, where you got it,
where you were, how much she loved
it," said AnneMarie. "It's a piece of your heart and life gone."
To read why we did this story, read Susannah Frame's blog.
*You can "click" on the title of this post to be directly linked to the website and video-archive of this on-going story, including reader comments. Until federal monetary incentives to state governments promoting adoption is ethically reformed, these issues will only become more pronounced. The stipends given to states as incentives for recruiting adoptive families for older children languishing in foster care are, instead, being collected on in cases like this ~ children who are considered (and desired) "adoptable", but who must first be made "eligible" (available) for adoption.