Investigators: Senate bill would give relatives more rights in child welfare cases

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by SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on January 21, 2010 at 11:59 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 22 at 7:55 AM

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A series of stories by the KING 5 Investigators is leading to potential changes in state law, giving relatives more rights in child welfare cases.

The "Alexis Stuth Bill" was heard before a senate sub-committee in Olympia Thursday. It stems from a three-year battle between the state and an Enumclaw couple over their granddaughter.

"I think it's huge," said AnneMarie Stuth as she and husband Doug walked into the state Capitol with little Alexis in tow. It was a family nearly broken apart forever by the system.

"We were going to lose her forever, never see her again. It was the end of the line," said Doug.

The bill would give relatives who care for a child the right to be heard in court with an attorney if the state takes the child away from them in favor of foster care -- exactly what happened in the Stuths' case.

"Family is all you have. That is the one thing that's a constant. It never changes. You always love them and they're always there and I don't think somebody should have the right to take that from anybody, especially a little one," said AnneMarie.

When Alexis was a toddler and a judge was deciding where she should live, the Stuths were criticized in court by state workers. They were accused of lying, making trouble and being unfit to take care of the grandchild they'd raised since birth.

They had to sit there and take it. Relatives have no legal standing to speak up and defend themselves.

"It was two years of sitting up at night. A lot of money. Tens of thousands of dollars. Not being able to be heard in a court. Made out to look like the worst people in the world," said Doug.

The KING 5 Investigators first exposed the Stuths' case in 2008. Alexis had been taken away and in foster care for nearly two years. They were hopeless and beaten down. We continued to show how the state and a judge didn't follow the law by giving priority to relatives. Then, in a sudden shift, the family was re-united one year ago. The Stuths formally adopted Alexis last summer.

The Stuths are hoping this landmark legislation will make a lasting change for children like Alexis in Washington state.

"I'm really optimistic. I'm really glad it's up in front of the Senate and I pray that it passes so people in the future won't have to go through what we have," said Doug.

At the end of the hearing, the committee chairman had encouraging words for the Stuths. He said, so far, there was no official opposition to the proposal and that he didn't see any roadblocks to moving the Alexis Stuth Bill a step closer to becoming law.

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