SEATTLE -- Alex Lovelace reaches under the table for her 6-year-old Alia's hand at the start of the family court hearing.
"How much longer, mommy?" asks the fidgeting first grader, who twirls in the King County courtroom chair and tugs on her 29-year-old mother's arm.
"Like five minutes," Lovelace whispers, as a judge asks a social worker about the mother's progress since she's been clean.
"They're getting ready to say you can come back home," she tells her daughter.
Lovelace and Alia exchange a silent smile. Minutes later, the Marysville mother exhales a sigh of relief.
It's been more than two years since a judge forced the now-recovering heroin addict to hand over custody of her daughter to Alia's grandma, Janet Jones. But on this February afternoon, the judge ruled, Alia could return to her mother's care.
"I'm happy. I'm just happy!" Alia said, wrapping her arms around her dad, Taylor Foote, in the hallway of the King County Superior Court. "I'm happy that I get to come home."
Lovelace, who says she stopped using heroin in November 2016, had been preparing for weeks to give her daughter a new start.
She decorated Alia's room with star-shaped lights that dangle from the wall. She filled the room with toys, and she bought Alia a brand new bed that she could bounce on. The last time her daughter lived under her roof, the then 3-year-old girl slept in between her parents on a California King bed while they got high.
"I get a chance to make up for that and give her a childhood," Lovelace said.
But while the mother strives to make up for lost time with her kid, she faces a reality of heroin addiction that she never considered when she got high. Alia -- and thousands of other kids left behind by addicted parents -- know too much about a drug they should be too young to understand.
WATCH: Alia's Story
"(Children) are the causalities of addiction," said Donna Merryfield, who works with recovering drug addicts and their children at Evergreen Recovery Centers in Everett. "I think they probably see a lot more than they should. That's going to affect anybody's innocence."
In 2017, Washington officials removed more children from their parents because of substance use than in previous years, according to the state's Department of Social and Health Services. Though the agency does not classify their removals by drug type, local substance abuse experts who work the children of addicts say heroin is commonly the drug of choice.
Substance abuse treatment professionals consider heroin one of the most difficult addictions to treat. The drug delivers a powerful high, while withdrawal symptoms for the addicted are extreme.
"This is an illness," said Naomi Villano, executive director of New Phoebe House Association, a Tacoma drug treatment program that helps addicted mothers reunify with their children. "There is such a fear of the withdrawal and the pain of withdrawal. It's not a drug that you can just stop taking without serious physical ramifications."
Addicts who do recover often relapse multiple times and succeed only with intensive medical and psychological treatment.
"(Children) see someone lying down, passing out -- it depends on the user. But they don't know if their parents are alive or dead," Villano said. "But besides what these kids see, (I worry about) the long-term effects on these tiny people who are so dear."