Foster dad pushes for Sirita’s law

BY JENNIFER MADISON DAVIS
JOURNAL MANAGING EDITOR

Sirita Sotelo would have turned five on Saturday, Feb. 12. Her foster father marked the occasion by visiting the Shoreline cemetery where Sirita was buried following her murder in Lake Stevens last month.

He’s also increasing pressure on state legislators to change state laws to better protect children in foster care.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the circumstances of Sirita’s beating death on Jan. 21. No new information on the case was released last week, and no arrests have been made. Sirita’s stepmother, Heather Ewell, and father, John Ewell, have retained attorneys.

Sirita lived with her foster father, Gary, and his wife in Woodinville for 10 months between Feb. and Nov. 2003. Gary has asked that his last name not be disclosed to protect his other foster children.

Prior to living with Gary, Sirita alternated between foster care and the custody of her mother, Patricia Sotelo. When the mother’s parental rights were terminated, Gary sought to adopt Sirita but her biological father won custody.

“Sirita wanted nothing more than a place to call home,” said Gary in an interview with the Journal last week. His voice breaking, he continued, “She wanted nothing more than to find a forever home. She’s found it in heaven.”

Gary is calling for changes in state laws to limit the amount of time a child can spend in foster care before being placed in a permanent home.

“Sirita was in foster care from the day she was born until she was nearly four,” said Gary. “Parents should have one year to clean up their acts. Kids should not be trapped in the system for years like Sirita was.”

Gary is meeting with legislators, has put up a webpage at www.siritalaw.com and is encouraging anyone concerned about the welfare of children in foster care to get involved. “It’s too late for my little girl but there are thousands of others like her still caught in the system,” said Gary.

Gary calls for five reforms in state law:
1. Right to permanency within one year. If a child is removed by Child Protective Services from an unsafe home, the parents would have one year to fix the situation or lose custody. Currently the “clock” is reset every time a child is returned to the parents home. Gary says Sirita spent four years waiting for that one-year clock to run out.

2. Right to supportive parents. Parents who do not contact or otherwise support a child in foster care for a year would lose custody.

3. Right to a safe home. Before a child is returned to a home, all adults in the home would be required to complete parenting classes. Visits with the former foster family would continue during the six month period the family remains under CPS supervision.

4. Right to rapid protection. Children who are the subject of four separate reports to CPS would be taken into temporary custody while the reports are investigated.

5. Three strikes. Parents would lose custody of any child taken away three times.

Gary says these changes may not have affected the ultimate outcome in Sirita’s case but would have “changed the odds dramatically in her favor and given her more stability during her life.”
He says he was unable to save Sirita but he would like to save other children from suffering like she did.

For information on Sirita’s Law, visit www.siritalaw.com.

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