The infant was placed in Child Protective Services custody on May 30 after being found in a homeless camp with drug paraphernalia nearby. The baby was returned to its mother days later before a court commissioner had seen the police report.
The authorities found a 5-month-old boy safe in South Seattle on Friday evening, ending an ordeal that began when Child Protective Services removed the infant from a homeless camp last month only to have a judge return the child to his mother days later.
The Seattle Times originally reported Thursday about the case, after Seattle police posted an item about the incident on the department’s online blotter. The post said the infant was placed into CPS custody May 30, after police were called about a five-month-old baby living in unsafe conditions at an encampment in the 900 block of Poplar Place.
The post was based on a police report that made no mention of the child’s current status, police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said Friday. According to the police report, a person living in the encampment had seen the child in a tent with a soiled diaper and improperly clothed. There were signs of methamphetamine use, he said.
But it turns out the child was returned to his mother just days after police turned the infant over to CPS.
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At a June 4 dependency court hearing, King County Superior Court Commissioner Keith Scully released the child into the mother’s custody, Scully said in an interview Friday. The hearings are held to determine whether a child should be placed in CPS shelter care while a dependency case is proceeding and, if so, who they should be placed with: a parent, another relative or a foster family. Placing children with a foster family is, by law, a last resort, Scully said.
CPS argued the child should not be returned to the mother.
When police arrived around 9 p.m., they found the child in a vehicle, either an RV or trailer, with people other than the mother, said Scully, an attorney who acts as a pro tem commissioner, appointed by the Superior Court to sit in when a commissioner or judge is out.
The infant’s mother testified at the hearing that the people in the vehicle were babysitting the child while she while she went on a job interview, Scully recalled. She returned to the camp and phoned police about 10:45 p.m., asking what had happened to her child, the police report said.
In the June 4 hearing, the mother testified she planned to move in with her father in his apartment outside of Seattle, Scully said.
Her parental rights to previous children had been terminated more than 10 years ago, Scully said. That was a factor in deciding whether to place the infant in her custody, Scully said, but it is weighed on a case-by-case basis.
“You can’t say once one kid is taken away, they’re all taken away,” Scully said. Homelessness also is not an automatic reason to remove a child from a parent.
Scully said he found the mother’s story credible and did not have enough information to legally warrant turning the child over to CPS or a foster parent. The child could not be placed with its father because he was in police custody at the time for an unrelated incident, Scully said.
Scully ruled the child should be in shelter care, and then placed him with his mother, on the condition she move in with her father or communicate with CPS about alternative living arrangements, Scully said.
However, during a second day for the dependency hearing, which Scully believed happened June 6, a CPS social worker testified that she had accompanied the mother and infant to the apartment where the mother’s father reportedly lived. At some point, the mother left with the baby, and the social worker had no means to keep her there, Scully said.
When the social worker went to the apartment, a woman who lived there said she’d never heard of the man who supposedly lived there.
By the second day of the hearing, Scully had also received a copy of the police report, which included witnesses who said the child had been left alone with drug paraphernalia, Scully said.
The social worker’s testimony, and the police report, prompted Scully to issue a new order placing the child in foster care.
Neither the child nor mom had been seen since until authorities found them Friday. The King County’s Sheriff’s Office said the baby was found with the assistance of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the sheriff’s Metro Transit Police, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt Ryan Abbott. CPS has taken custody of the child, Abbott said.
There was no immediate word about what would happen with the child’s mother, who is the subject of two investigations: a criminal, felony child-neglect case being conducted by Seattle police, and a civil, dependency case that’s brought by the state when it’s deemed that parenting deficiencies are so severe the state must intervene.
Will Lemke, spokesman for the city’s Navigation Team, a collection of police officers and outreach workers who work with people living in the city’s homeless encampments, said Friday the team had interacted with the mother multiple times since last year.
Navigation Team Sgt. Eric Zerr had said Thursday the team had been in contact with the mother since the child was removed.
But that’s not correct, Lemke said.
The Navigation Team last interacted with the woman in February when they helped her get into shelter, at Peter’s Place, Lemke said. She was pregnant at the time.
Staff reporter Agueda Pacheco-Flores contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when the Navigation Team last interacted with the mother of the child. They last interacted with her in February.
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