Olga and Boris Shved got their children back Friday, 10 1/2 years after the kids were placed in foster care over allegations of abuse.
The Pasco couple held hands as a Franklin County court commissioner said the reason for the kids’ removal no longer exists, and ordered their immediate return.
Across the courtroom, their children, Ella and Ryslan, cried while sitting with their foster parents and siblings.
Ella was 4 months old and Ryslan was 2 1/2 when they last lived with their biological parents in 2006.
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They’ve been with the same foster family since 2007, and a short time later were allowed by the court to move from the Tri-Cities to a small city outside of Minneapolis because of the placement father’s job.
On Friday, Court Commissioner Jerri Potts recognized that the kids are bonded and attached to their placement parents, but pointed out that foster care is designed to be a temporary living situation and the primary goal is a child’s safe return home.
The foster parents have provided excellent care and opportunities to the kids and shown them unconditional love, Potts said.
But Potts took issue with a recent legal action by the foster parents to try and get permanent guardianship, which would end all communication by the kids with the Shveds.
She also said the foster parents have given confidential information about the case to the kids and to people in their Minnesota community.
The foster parents long ago made known their desire to adopt Ella and Ryslan.
“Ella and Ryslan are foster children living in a foster home with placement parents who desperately and openly seek to keep them, and to keep them exclusively from the Shveds,” said Potts, who took almost an hour to read her ruling.
“There are nuances to this case, and twists and turns that no one in this room expected or wanted, most of all not the children,” she added.
“I do know, I do understand and I do appreciate that these children ... do not want to leave Minnesota and the placement parents ...,” she said.
Potts noted how the kids, in being forced to move back to Pasco, must leave school, sports, church and anything else that defines who they are.
Yet, she can’t be swayed by emotions and must apply the law to the facts, she said. The court has removed children from the only home they have known and placed with complete strangers 76 times this year, she said.
“These are all hard cases. This is a hard case,” she said. “It is what I do for a living. I do hard cases. I make difficult and oftentimes unpopular decisions.”
Ella, born two months premature, was taken away from the Shveds after a doctor found numerous scratches on her body and breaks in her arm, thigh and ribs that were at least 2 weeks old. She also had severe head injuries and corresponding skull fractures that were more recent.
Olga Shved was convicted by a jury of first-degree assault of a child and sent to prison for 10 years. She served two years before the state Court of Appeals reversed her case and sent it back to Franklin County Superior Court.
A judge in 2014 found there was insufficient evidence to prove Olga abused her daughter. Two months later another judge reinstated the couple’s parental rights.
Since then, the Shveds have been fighting for reunification in the Franklin County Juvenile Court dependency case.
Now-retired Court Commissioner Joseph Schneider had refused to overturn his 2007 decision that the Shveds were unfit parents, even in spite of medical evidence showing Ella’s injuries could have been caused in the womb or during the birthing process.
Potts said on Friday that it is unclear to her why the children were allowed to move out of the state with a foster family, when they had relatives and a father in the Tri-Cities who were viable placement options.
There is evidence that the foster parents either solicited on their own or had the children solicit declaration letters urging the court to allow the children to remain with them, Potts said.
Most of the letters were character references, but many outlined confidential information that the writers should not or could not have known unless the parents told them, she said.
“Clearly the placement parents, acting contrary to the best interests of the children, have blatantly and purposefully disregarded the court-ordered plan toward fostering a positive and productive relationship with the Shveds,” Potts said.
In contrast, the Shveds have been trying to develop that relationship and had a a nice six-day visit with the kids in the Tri-Cities in August, Potts said.
“By not following the plan, by not changing the narrative for the children and for those that surround the children, and by constantly keeping the topic of reuniting alive with the children, it is the placement parents that are placing the children at the risk of significant damage,” Potts said.
Going forward, the Shveds must continue meeting with their family counselor and the kids must see a child psychologist, she said.
The court will set a review date.