The KING 5 Investigators spent a year chronicling the life of a foster child nicknamed “Poca.” The little girl was raised by an Arlington foster family, and then was abruptly taken away from them last year.
Now those foster parents, Amy and Dick Langley, have been told they’ll never see the little girl again.
"It felt like someone slugged us. It just jabbed that knife back in your heart," said Poca’s former foster mother, Amy Langley. "It’s just hard. You play back those memories, the last time you saw her, what you would have done, what you would have said. We don't get to talk to her on the phone; we don't get to have any relationship with her. I can't imagine what life will be like, never knowing how she's doing."
Child Protective Services took Poca away from her birth parents when she was an infant and placed her with the Langleys, who were longtime, experienced foster parents. Soon after, social workers asked them if they'd be willing to adopt her. They said yes.
Foster care is meant to be a short-term situation - a place where children can be safe and well-cared for while the state works to reunify families by providing parents with services to correct perceived deficiencies. There are even state and federal laws mandating how long a child should be in foster care. If parents don’t appear to be making strides to become fit parents after 15 months, a trial is to take place to seek termination of parental rights so the child can be adopted.
In Poca’s case, it wasn’t 15 months, but four years that she lived with the Langleys, as a revolving door of social workers tried again and again to reunify the family without success.
After a series of mistakes and poor decision making within the child welfare system, the state asked a judge to take Poca away from the Langleys, who had been pegged as complainers and troublemakers who got in the way of reunification. With a court order in hand, they put her in a new foster home last May.
"I feel like a part of me died," Amy said the day Poca left.
Now Poca lives full time with her birth parents. Until now she had regular visits with the Langleys as well.
The foster parents worry about what Poca must think. The first attachment figures in her life are suddenly gone, for good.
"I understand that they want her to have a life with her birth family, but I don't think that cutting all contact after four years, five years now, it's not in the best interest (of the child)," said Amy.
"I just think that for a child that lived here for four years and was bonded (with us) from a tiny, tiny baby, how could this be for her? What's she feeling? That's the real story. I can't imagine she would have wanted it this way," said Dick Langley.
Poca's birth parents wanted it this way and asked Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris to cut off all ties with the Langleys. The judge did by signing a court order.
"She brought a lot of joy, a lot of happiness to our family," said Amy. "We don't understand why her time with us was cut so short, and why she was brought into our lives, but I believe everything was for a reason and hopefully because of our bond we gave her enough of a foundation that she can have a successful life. We love her and we will love her for her entire life."
The Langleys hope one day down the line, Poca will find them, the first people she considered family. Until then, they hold onto memories, and the few trinkets left behind in her little pink bedroom still set up in their home.
"I can see why people don't pack up their things when a loved one dies. It's almost like you don't want to forget them, you're holding onto that last little bit, like you have them back for a moment," said Amy.
After the KING 5 Investigators exposed problems associated with Poca’s case, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered a full external review of the child welfare system as it relates to this case. A state Action Plan resulted from the investigation. The Department of Social and Health Services says the initiatives are progressing; as they continue their commitment to finding stability for children in foster care as quickly as possible.