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Originally published June 24, 2010 at 9:08 PM | Page modified June 24, 2010 at 9:25 PM

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Courts reunite happy parents, kids in dependency cases

On Thursday, amid applause and cheers, Elizabeth Anderson won her children back, one of a handful of dependency cases celebrated Thursday for their happy endings as part of King County Youth Services' first annual Reunion Week. Similar celebrations were held in courts throughout the state.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Elizabeth Anderson said she lost her children last year after the manager of her apartment reported her to the state for living in "unsanitary" conditions.

Her children's father was incarcerated, she had little family support and was working nights while trying to care for a 6-year-old boy and 2-year-old twins.

"I was trying to keep up," said the 28-year-old Seattle woman. "But I was overwhelmed. It was too much."

On Thursday, amid applause and cheers, Anderson won her children back, one of a handful of dependency cases celebrated Thursday for their happy endings as part of King County Youth Services' first annual Reunion Week. Similar celebrations were held in courts throughout the state.

Her son, Aries, now 7, pumped his arms in the air when the judge said the family would no longer be under court supervision.

"It feels great," he said afterward. "I missed my mom the whole time I was away from her."

Anderson, whose lawyer and social worker praised her for doing everything the court asked, said the battle was tough but well worth it.

"It's the hardest thing to admit your inadequacies as a parent," said Anderson, who was in foster care for three years herself as a child.

"But once you do, you can really begin to grow," she said.

Social workers, lawyers, judges, commissioners, dignitaries and other "veteran" parents who have won their children back smiled and cheered as the cases were dismissed.

"People can change and families do reunite," said Nancy Roberts-Brown, director of Catalyst For Kids, an initiative of the Children's Home Society of Washington.

Of hundreds of children who are removed from their families each year in Washington state because of abuse and neglect, two-thirds are ultimately returned to their families, according to the Department of Social and Health Services.

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Reunification, however, takes hard work and often requires parents to confront addictions and personal deficiencies, as well as to learn skills their parents may not have had, according to one veteran parent who spoke at the event.

Kimberly Mays, who regained custody of her ninth child after losing eight others to the state because of her addictions, now works for King County in the Parent-to-Parent peer-mentoring program.

Mays, who is weeks away from earning a master's in public administration, meets with parents when they've first lost their children and "they're angry, hopeless and despondent."

"I can tell them I've been there. This process is difficult, but it's doable," she said.

Shrounda Selivanoff, another parent who spoke at the event, lost custody of her now 3-year-old daughter when her daughter was an infant.

In the beginning, she said, she was "a reluctant spectator at best."

"I felt the mountain was huge, and that this was going to happen for everyone else, and wasn't going to happen for me," she said.

But she confronted her crack and heroin addictions, successfully completed a treatment program and regained custody of her daughter. "I have to say, 'Thank You' to the state of Washington 'cause I had some serious issues. I am now a clean and sober woman and a good mom and I did the work."

King County Family Law Court Commissioner Mark Hillman said Thursday's "happy moment" was intended to give hope to parents and children.

"The recognition is wonderful," said Anderson. "I've learned to be more self-reliant and I'm a better person and a better parent."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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