A Pasco couple trying to regain custody of their children must reduce online and phone visits to once a month over concerns the kids are becoming traumatized by the process.
The order Friday came as Olga and Boris Shved were hoping to arrange a trip together to see their two kids in Minnesota.
Olga Shved visited with them by herself earlier this year. It was her first time seeing daughter Ella and son Ryslan since the kids were removed from the family home in June 2006 over allegations of abuse.
The criminal case against Olga Shved has since been dismissed — after she served two years in prison — and the couple’s parental rights were reinstated one year ago by a Franklin County Superior Court judge.
But Friday, after reading reports and listening to nearly 11/2 hours of arguments from attorneys and a guardian ad litem, Court Commissioner Joseph Schneider said he had to continue acting in the best interest of the kids first.
“There is no question that Mr. and Mrs. Shved love these children, and I think that they believe that some day the kids will come to love them,” Schneider said.
But if the parents thought “love would cure all problems” if the children were returned immediately to them, that does not reflect reality, he said.
Ella, 9, and Ryslan, 11, have been living with foster parents who’ve expressed a desire to make the kids permanent members of their family. Meanwhile, the Shveds for the past year have been pushing for reunification with their only children.
Schneider has refused to reverse his earlier findings in the Franklin County Juvenile Court dependency case that the Shveds are unfit parents. However, he has agreed to the process of reintroducing the children to their biological parents, starting last fall with Skype visits every two weeks while working with counselors and the eventual in-person visit with Olga Shved.
Ella has no prior memory of her parents since she was 4 months old when she was taken out of their home, and Ryslan can’t recall his relationship with them since he was 21/2. But they have been curious about meeting “Mommy Olga” and “Daddy Boris” and learning about their cultures.
Olga is a native of the Republic of Moldova, and Boris is from Ukraine.
Schneider said Friday that even though the Shveds have an unconditional love for their children, the parents need to understand what a “sensitive and delicate matter” this is and how the kids won’t reciprocate their feelings since they are strangers. His main concern always has been how the children would deal with the reunification process, and finding a way to make it the least traumatic to them so it doesn’t affect their future development.
While the children have shown that they can be pleasant with the Shveds during visits, they’ve also shown obvious signs of emotional and physical distress in the aftermath, including vomiting, seizing, withdrawing from their normal activities and acting up, Schneider said. These children are dealing with high levels of anxiety, depression and fear.
“It’s very difficult for the children to engage with Mr. and Mrs. Shved when their greatest fear is they’re going to remove them from all they’ve ever known,” Schneider said, noting how the kids have bonded with their foster family and feel secure in that home.
Assistant Attorney General Kevin Hartze, who represents the Department of Social and Health Services, admitted they have made a little headway, but said he is concerned about too much experimenting with the process and recommended they “back up a little bit” with visitation.
Jennifer Azure, a Richland lawyer appointed to represent the kids, said Ella and Ryslan are “absolutely struggling,” don’t feel like they’re being heard and have been vocal about wanting to be adopted.
The kids don’t have a love for their biological parents since their relationship has been nonexistent for nine years, and at this point the visitations are being forced on Ella and Ryslan and it’s become harmful, she said.
The parties all have different opinions about what is in the best interest of the kids, but Azure said she needed to speak up for her young clients who “want back to their normal life.”
Attorneys Craig Matheson of Kennewick and Linda Lillevik of Seattle, who represent the Shveds, said the situation isn’t so dramatic yet that they need to cut off all contact.
“If they can’t visit with their children, then they have no hope of reuniting in their own home with their children, so we have to go through this difficult time,” Matheson said. “No one expected this process to be easy after eight years. We don’t think we should quit and we don’t think the court should quit” after reports of the kids being stressed.
“This is not a child’s decision. A child’s input is very important, but it is not the kind of decision that should be made by a child,” he added.
The attorneys pointed to pictures and a brief video from when Olga Shved saw the kids, describing it as a nice and joyous visit, and said they didn’t understand why now they are getting negative reports.
Schneider, noting that he was thinking about child safety and welfare, ordered an independent review of the case by Tacoma psychologist Loren W. McCollom. He wants McCollom to determine whether reunification is appropriate and, if so, what steps need to be taken to make sure it is a positive and lasting process.
Until that is done, the Shveds can only do one video call per month and must work with an appointed parenting coach, who will assist in those visits.
“This is a difficult decision for the court,” Schneider said. “I want to make sure that as we move forward, we do it so it’s not overly traumatizing to the children.”