4-Year-Old Boy Faces An Uncertain Future
by Jolayne Houtz
One child is dead and the other is living with strangers, his future in the hands of the same judicial system that convicted his mother of murder.
Noreen Erlandson was found guilty Monday of fatally beating her 2-year-old daughter, Kayla, in April. Now it's up to social workers, therapists and a Snohomish County judge whether Erlandson will ever see her 4-year-old son, Shea, again.
Shea was moved to temporary foster care shortly after paramedics were called to Erlandson's Bothell home, where they found her holding her badly bruised and burned daughter. Erlandson is appealing her conviction, which carries a standard 12-year prison sentence.
In the next week, state Children and Family Services workers will start looking into where Shea should live.
"It's a very difficult situation to try to project . . . what's going to happen," said Nancy Zahn, acting regional administrator for Children and Family Services.
Shea, who also was adopted by Erlandson and her husband, Douglas, from a Korean orphanage, could end up with the Erlandsons, with relatives or in permanent foster care.
Charles French, the Erlandsons' Everett attorney, said they will continue trying to get Shea back.
Douglas Erlandson stood by his wife throughout the trial, and though he never has been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, social workers now will scrutinize his support to determine what kind of atmosphere Shea would return to if he goes home.
Some parents continue to deny that anything went wrong, even after a conviction. When that's the case, "I would really wonder about how safe their child would be," said Diana Roberts, Children and Family Services director.
A felony conviction, even for murder, does not mean the parent automatically forfeits parental rights, Zahn said. Each case is examined individually, and it's possible Shea could be reunited with his adoptive family.
In most cases of fatal abuse where there were surviving children, they did not return home, Roberts said.
Under court order, Shea has seen his parents occasionally in the 10 months he has been separated from them, Zahn said.
"He's doing satisfactorily," she said. "Any time a child would experience what he's experienced, it's really traumatic."
A Snohomish County Juvenile Court judge is expected to make a decision about Shea's future sometime this spring.
Meanwhile, Travelers Aid Society that placed Shea and his sister with the Erlandsons has been suspended from Korean adoptions.
The Seattle agency was temporarily suspended after Erlandson's arrest, and this week Korean adoption officials ended their affiliation with the agency.