EVERETT, Wash. - The case of a child nicknamed Poca has taken a dramatic turn. The little girl who stayed in a Snohomish County foster home for four years, then was suddenly taken away, is now living full-time with her birth parents.
This is the first year Poca won't be part of the Langley's Christmas home video. Traditions are taking on a new meaning for these foster parents without the child they raised for four years.
Hanging the ornaments on the tree, one less stocking. It has been the worst holidays of our lives, said Amy Langley.
Pain for one family, joy for another.
This year Poca will be with her birthparents. CPS has placed her and their other two children back with them after they were all taken away for suspected neglect.
The parents' attorney gave KING 5 a statement saying they are excited and thankful that their family has been reunited. The children are all thriving and everyone is looking forward to spending the holidays together as a family.
DSHS isn't commenting on this case anymore, but says getting families back together is goal number one.
Reunification, as long as it's safe, is the outcome that we prefer, said Randy Hart.
Everyone involved would prefer that Poca had a permanent home much sooner.
After her foster parents rattled cages complaining about how the case was going, Poca was taken away from them last May and placed with a new foster family.
Experts agree this is far-reaching trauma for a child after so many years with the people she knows as mom and dad.
Seeing her climb underneath that chair is burned in my mind, said Dick Langley.
It was horrible. I feel like a part of me died, said Amy.
After KING 5 started airing stories on Poca, pointing out broken laws and mistakes, there was public outrage going all the way up to the Governor who intervened.
I want to personally be confident that a thorough and unbiased investigation of the entire child welfare system as it relates to this child has been done, said Gov. Christine Gregoire.
That led to a newly released state action plan - about a dozen new improvement plans and strategies to avoid another case like this, including a red flag system where social workers will be alerted when a child, like Poca, has been in the system beyond the legal limit.
It looks like in early 2010 we'll be able to make an enhancement which will earlier identify cases which are falling behind in our expected timelines for permanency. That will be a good thing, said Randy Hart.
Beyond that, the state ombudsman for children and families, Mary Meinig, said she's seen a drastic improvement from Poca's case: Plans for foster children are coming together much quicker, social workers are being more aggressive at following the legal limits on how long children can be stay in limbo.
If things improved, that's a good thing, said Dick Langley. I don't want to toss Poca up as a sort of sacrificial offering to that, because... we certainly never had any intention of anything like that. We just started raising a little girl that we fell in love with.
The state has allowed the Langleys to see Poca once a month - a chance to reassure her that they haven't gone away.
We tell her every time that we love her with all of our hearts, that we will be with her no matter where she is, and that mommy is sending her kisses in the wind, so when she feels the wind, it's mommy sending her kisses and that I am always, always thinking of her, said Amy.
Some people might be wondering if Poca will ever go back to the Langleys. That would only happen if the state thinks her birthparents aren't fit to parent again and that the Langley home is the next best option.