SEATTLE -- After a two-year battle, an Enumclaw couple has been reunited with their granddaughter. A judge ruled the child is leaving foster care to be with family.
"Hi, my princess," said AnneMarie as she kissed and hugged her granddaughter Friday.
It's a stunning turn of events in a custody case that the KING 5 investigators have been following for months. The ruling to place the child back with family came after an emergency hearing was called Friday afternoon before Judge Ronald Kessler of King County Superior Court. Department of Social and Health Services officials ripped the child out of her foster home two days ago, after a complaint came into the Department about the foster mother.
Doug and AnneMarie Stuth hugged and cried when the judge made his ruling. It was an unbelievable moment for the couple who has been at bitter odds with the state for months. But Friday, the state changed its tune by actually asking the judge that the toddler be placed with the grandparents.
"This is huge. We thought we'd lose her forever," said Doug Stuth.
The little girl was taken away from her mother, the Stuth's teenage daughter, as an infant. The mother was seen unfit to take care of the baby.
The Stuths stepped in and raised the child for months. Favorable reports about the job they were doing were presented to the court many times. Then, they lost her to foster care.
State social workers and the prior judge thought the Stuths were too controlling of their teenage daughter and their overbearing ways hurt the young mom's chances of learning how to be a parent herself.
This decision was made even though state law mandates that relatives must be considered first before foster care when a child can't live with the parents.
The KING 5 Investigators also found misinformation was presented to the court about the Stuths by a social worker and a court appointed child advocate, which helped lead to the separation. After fighting the system for nearly two years, this complete turnaround is unreal to them.
"It means a lot today to listen to those words," said AnneMarie.
"There's no words for it," said Doug, holding his granddaughter in his arms. "We're going home."
The grandparents still have to be approved by a court to keep the child permanently. As for the biological mother, who's now 18 years old, she's still the legal parent, but is supporting the move of her child back to her parents. Her defense attorney, Ruth Warner, said after court, "We're delighted, vindicated, because this is part of what we've been working toward as an alternative. If the child could not be returned to the mother, my client wanted the child returned to the family - the grandparents. We're thrilled."
DSHS just assigned new social workers to this case, who are obviously taking a different approach to it altogether. They tell us their goal is to keep the child with family, and out of foster care. They plan on providing several services to help make that happen. They even invited KING 5 cameras to their offices tonight to videotape the reunion. The supervisor said he made the decision because they saw this as a positive step in the child's life after all she's been through with several different placements.
Judge Kessler ruled the teenage mom can continue visiting her child, but he made it clear that for now, the grandparents are in charge.