10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, September 22, 2009
By SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. - It's been four-and-a-half months since the day 4-year-old "Poca" hid behind a chair in the place she called home her entire life.
She made it obvious she didn’t want to leave.
That day, armed with a court order, state social workers abruptly removed Poca from her Snohomish County foster parents, Amy and Dick Langley, and her four foster sisters. The Langleys were pegged as troublemakers who complained too much about how Poca’s case was going.
Effects on children moved multiple times
“You would think that as time goes on that the grief would be less and that you would start moving on. It's actually been more. We miss her more,” said Amy Langley. "There's things in our house that are still Poca's. We don't use certain plates, we don't use certain cups, we don't use certain towels. Those were hers. So, it's really hard to have that mother/child bond and not be there every day of her life."
Since Poca was taken away, and put into a new foster home, social workers have let the Langleys visit her once a week. Then - without explanation - those visits were drastically cut to every two or three weeks.
Internationally renowned child attachment expert Deborah Gray says removing a child after all those years is devastating.
"It’s like losing your parents in a car accident, something like that,” said Gray. “They feel at any time, their lives can be torn away from them."
Since the KING 5 Investigators began airing stories about the foster child nicknamed "Poca," the state and other attorneys on the case have been making deals behind closed doors.
She says taking away visits with primary attachment figures can do even more damage, especially if the child may end up going back to that home someday. The head of the Department of Social and Health Services, Susan Dreyfus, has said repeatedly that the Langleys are a viable adoption resource for Poca if they pass an adoption home study.
"If we start making the time frame longer in between visits, then children feel even more acutely abandoned,” said Gray. “And if we look at time frames like three weeks, then that's really too long for a child of this age."
After the KING 5 Investigators started airing stories about Poca - exposing poor practices and errors - it appeared some people didn't want us in the courtroom anymore getting information. Click here to read KING 5's past stories about Poca.
Hearings about children in the system used to be secret proceedings, but now they are supposed to be open to the public.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris, who is presiding over Poca's case, made it especially difficult.
We've found she told the state and other attorneys involved to not give us court dates.
The judge then contacted KING 5 directly.
She yelled at our producer, incensed we were contacting her clerk to ask for court times. That’s a practice the KING 5 Investigators engage in routinely, without problems from other judges or their court clerks.Then she left two long, angry voice mails for our News Director.
Eventually, in a live phone conversation, she promised at least five times that we could get any court date we wanted by e-mail.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris left angry voicemails for KING 5, then promised to give us court dates. She never followed through on those promises.That never happened. Since those promises, every one of our inquiries to the court has been ignored.
Sen. Val Stevens sponsored a bill in 2004 that led to opening up hearings about children in the system to the public. She says that's not how the law is supposed to work.
"I can't believe that that's how it's being interpreted. That was not the intent (of the law) and they know it. When there were people in court, it was no longer this star chamber of secrecy and that was my biggest reason (to get the law passed), to hold them all accountable," said Sen. Stevens.
After the judge ignored our inquiries, we were able to get court information from the Director of Communications for the Attorney General’s office in Olympia (see video blog for more).
Also since we began reporting on court proceedings, the state and the other attorneys on the case have been making deals behind closed doors.
They're drafting what's called "Agreed Orders" about what's to happen to Poca, even though last year there was an order from the court prohibiting these deals, which take place without open court hearings.
The judge simply signs off on the Agreed Order: No discussion, no open court, no accountability.
As for Poca and her ties with the people she considered her family, there are no visits currently scheduled with the Langleys.
They check their e-mail time and again, every day, waiting to hear from social workers; waiting to get word if they'll ever see her again.
"That's a bond that can never be broken no matter how long we go without seeing her," said Amy Langley. "Are they going to say, well, now we're done completely? We just don't know."
Update to story: The Langleys have just been notified that their visits with Poca have been cut again. Judge Farris has signed an Agreed Order that they can see her once a month now, for two hours.