Two kids who have been living with a foster family in Minnesota for eight years have been ordered back to the Tri-Cities for a six-day visit with their parents.
Ella and Ryslan Shved sobbed uncontrollably over the phone as a Franklin County judge announced Monday that their ongoing dependency case cannot “continue to be in status quo mode.”
Court Commissioner Jerri Potts said she wants the kids, now 10 and 12, to arrive by Saturday and gave detailed directions about what is to happen during their nearly weeklong visit.
The biological mother, Olga Shved, and defense investigator Kathy Metz will travel to pick them up later this week, and will get instructions on how to administer Ella’s medications and their overall daily schedule, Potts said.
Ella suffers from epileptic seizures and requires special care.
Potts, who took over the case after another judge retired two months ago, noted that it has been torture the placement parents, the biological parents and herself since she said in July that it’s time to take action.
But what they’ve been feeling is nothing compared to what the children have experienced since they were removed from their Pasco home in June 2006 over allegations of child abuse, she said.
The foster parents long ago made it known their desire to adopt Ella and Ryslan, while the biological parents have been fighting to be reunited with their only children.
“If there is a word that means something bigger and badder than torture, then that word applies for what the children have gone through,” said Potts, who got choked up and had to pause a few times while issuing her ruling.
Potts chastised the state Department of Social and Health Services for not providing both parents with significant guidance or services, and the parents for not communicating and coming together over the past decade in the best interest of the kids.
The placement parents are fighting for children who have the DNA and genetic qualities of people they don’t even know. The parents are fighting against people who have raised their children and loved them as their own, and they don’t have a clue who these people are.
Court Commissioner Jerri Potts
“The placement parents are fighting for children who have the DNA and genetic qualities of people they don’t even know,” Potts said. “The parents are fighting against people who have raised their children and loved them as their own, and they don’t have a clue who these people are.”
“It is unacceptable. Actually, it’s unbelievable,” she added.
At the end of a three-hour hearing, Potts told both sets of parents to “step back and take a deep breath, and step up and do the hard work this case really requires.”
“Quit putting it on the shoulders of these two children, whose fate and future have been in the hands of the legal system that is neither designed nor equipped to raise children, nor have we done a very good job,” said Potts.
Otherwise, both parties can stay wrapped up in the legal wrangling “they have been in for the last 10 years to the detriment of the children,” and return to court every few months until each kid turns 18, she said.
Ella was 4 months old when she was placed with a foster family. Ryslan was 2 1/2 .
Olga Shved was charged in 2006 with abusing her baby girl. Her husband, Boris Shved, was accused of failing to protect the kids.
The father’s gross misdemeanor case was dismissed. However, the mother was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Her first-degree assault of a child conviction was reversed after she had served two years.
In February 2014, a judge found there was insufficient evidence to prove Olga abused her daughter.
That decision in part was based on defense experts who refuted the abuse allegations and said Ella’s injuries were the result of a bone disease. The judge also found that the vacuum-assisted delivery during Ella’s premature birth could have been responsible for the skull fractures and other issues.
Two months after Olga Shved was cleared of her criminal charge, another judge restored the Shveds parental rights.
Despite those rulings, now-retired Court Commissioner Joseph Schneider refused to reverse his earlier finding.
Schneider, who presided over the Franklin County Juvenile Court dependency case from the start, however agreed to set a duel plan for both adoption and reunification.
Last month, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Hartze told Potts that the findings in the criminal case are irrelevant to this ongoing matter.
Hartze, who represents the Department of Social and Health Services, said they need the Shveds to acknowledge that they caused injuries to Ella when she was a newborn and to understand the severity of those injuries.
Potts recognized that places the Shveds “between a rock and a hard place,” since the parents have denied the abuse and a criminal court found no evidence to prove otherwise.
On Monday, Hartze, the Shveds’ attorneys, the kids’ court-appointed lawyer Jennifer Azure and Peggy Hevland, a guardian appointed to advocate for the children’s interests, all gave passionate arguments about where they feel the case should go next.
Olga Shved was in court, but her husband reportedly could not get off work for the hearing.
Ella and Ryslan listened in, along with their foster parents and a social worker, via conference call from Minnesota.
I now have the role of determining the destiny of these children and the fate of their family, whatever or whoever that family is ultimately going to be. Ultimately I can’t say whose rights are going to prevail.
Court Commissioner Jerri Potts
“We all want the best for Ella and Ryslan. Given the unique nature of this case, there is not one of us in this room who knows what that is or what that looks like. We all certainly have an opinion …,” said Potts.
“I now have the role of determining the destiny of these children and the fate of their family, whatever or whoever that family is ultimately going to be. Ultimately I can’t say whose rights are going to prevail.”
Potts estimated that between October 2014 and now, the Shveds have been allowed 25 to 30 hours total of visitation, either through Skype or the telephone. Olga Shved also visited them in person over two days in February 2015 for about six hours total, she said.
Eight months have passed since the biological parents last had any visit with the kids, she noted.
“Using a computer is not ideal, and as more time passes the children are anxious about their future …,” Potts said. “Because of the great distance, 1,600 miles, between the parents and the children, the parents have not been given the opportunity to develop a relationship or bond up to this point. That same fact holds true for the children.”
At the end of the visit, the foster parents are to fly to the Tri-Cities to pick up Ella and Ryslan. Potts said they will have a brief court hearing then to find out how it went and make plans for future visits.