Video: Trial could lead to loss of grandchild forever

SEATTLE -- The fate of a 3-year-old girl taken from her family and placed in foster care a year ago is about to be decided by the court system.

Last month, the KING 5 Investigators brought you the heartbreaking story of an Enumclaw toddler who was taken away from the only stable home she'd ever known and put in foster care.

AnneMarie Stuth of Enumclaw doesn't come into her granddaughter's empty room very often. Seeing her things is too painful.

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"It's a part of your heart and life gone," said Stuth.

AnneMarie and her husband Doug helped raise their grandchild for the first two years of her life. Their daughter had the baby at 16 and needed their help.

"She was the center of our world," said AnneMarie.

The teen mom and her baby moved away from the Stuths when the child was 9 months old. Moving out didn't go well: A doctor found the teenager let the baby get dangerously thin.

Child Protective Services was called in and placed the child with the grandparents. They were seen as model caregivers: They didn't have criminal histories, they both had good jobs and they rearranged their entire schedules so the baby didn't have to be in daycare full-time.

A court appointed child advocate wrote several glowing reports about the job the grandparents were doing. He wrote, "(the baby) continues to thrive in the home", and "she's fortunate to have her grandparents as a safety net."

"We'd do anything for her," said Doug. "Our granddaughter always came first. She's a little baby. She needs someone to protect her and take care of her and that's what we did."

But when the baby was two, the Stuths fell out of favor with the system.

The child's court advocate and state workers told the court the grandparents were selfish, hyper-critical, and undermined their own daughter's parenting.

The judge ordered they were no longer a placement option for the child.

The baby went into foster care.

The Stuths were devastated. They got reports that the little girl was distraught at daycare.

"She cries for me," said Doug. "You have no idea (how hard it is)."

The Stuths attended a trial Tuesday in juvenile court in Seattle. The state is trying to terminate the young mother's parental rights. Through a witness, the assistant attorney general said the teenager wasn't mature enough or motivated enough to care for her daughter.

If her parental rights are terminated, the Stuths may never see their granddaughter again because the state wants the foster parent -- a single mom -- to adopt the child.

"It's impossible to put into words to explain to anybody that your family member, your granddaughter who you've raised since an infant could just be gone from your life in an instant," said AnneMarie.

The Department of Social and Health Services wouldn't answer our questions about the case, but a top official who's quit the job since our interview defended the department's actions.

"The first requirement is that any placement be in the best interest of the child and we are to look to relatives for that and we do," said Cheryl Stephani, former Director of the Children's Administration of DSHS. "But we can't forget that we always need to be looking at the best interest of the child."

Court records show the child is bonded with her grandparents. She makes cards and pictures for them all the time. And at a scheduled visit with her grandparents last October, the toddler's face lit up with excitement when she spotted her grandma and grandpa.

"To see the excitement in her eyes and know how we feel inside, there's no way to put that into words," said AnneMarie.

State law is clear that if a child can't live with parents, relatives must be considered first before foster care. But in this case, the state is so committed to having the child adopted by the foster parent that they tried to seal the deal before trial.

A few weeks ago, an assistant attorney general sent a settlement offer to the young biological mom. It stated if she voluntarily gave up her parental rights and allowed the foster mother to adopt the child, she and the grandparents could visit the little girl four times a year and get two pictures of her in the mail every year.

The biological mother would not agree to those conditions and instead is at the trial, fighting to keep her child.

The court proceeding continues Wednesday.

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