Palo Alto parents fight for children’s return from Nebraska foster care
By Patrick May
Posted: 07/07/2009 06:16:41 PM PDT
Updated: 07/08/2009 09:02:50 AM PDT
A Stanford University physicist and his wife, whose kids have been held in a Nebraska foster home for more than a month after an ugly family altercation, will appear this morning in a courtroom outside Omaha, hoping to persuade a judge to let their children come back home.
The bizarre chain of events began when the couple — Suwen Wang, a visiting scholar at Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, and his wife, paralegal Charlotte Fu — traveled to Nebraska last month so their 12-year-old daughter, Alice, could be honored in an international art competition. On June 6, a witness told police the parents had hit their son, 13, while their car was parked on a road outside Omaha.
“This is an Orwellian nightmare,” said Larry Markosian, a computer scientist at NASA/Ames Research Institute and longtime friend of Wang and his family.
“Every family occasionally has difficulty raising kids, especially teenage boys. I don’t know what happened. But we know they are a loving and kind family and we see no reason whatsoever to keep these kids in a foster home so far from the community they grew up in.”
Both Wang and Fu deny striking their son.
According to police, a witness saw Fu get out of their car and punch the boy, sitting in the back seat, in the face several times. The couple’s Omaha attorney, Michael Nelson, said “there was an incident with their son. He was needling his sister, and they pulled over to discipline him,” he said. “He used an expletive to his mom, but beyond that I can’t go into specifics.”
Nelson said the incident lasted “probably for 20 minutes or so, as they lectured the son. A witness made the call after watching from their front lawn.”
No formal charges
After the boy allegedly pushed his mom away, police said, Wang turned around from the front seat and also hit him several times in the face. Nelson said the boy was not treated for any injuries. Wang and Fu were arrested and kept in jail for two nights before posting a $250 cash bond each, said Nelson, adding that they had not been formally charged in the abuse case.
Wang and Fu declined to comment to the Mercury News about the incident. The Mercury News is not naming the boy because of the nature of the case.
But according to accounts in the Omaha World-Herald, the responding officer said Fu had blood on her face from a cut on her nose and that the children appeared to be upset.
The couple and their attorneys hope to persuade the judge to allow Nebraska child-welfare officials to work with their California counterparts and speed the children’s return back home.
Alice’s paintings clinched the North American division of the 2009 International Children’s Painting Competition and the parents hope she’ll be able to travel to South Korea for an Aug. 17 ceremony where the worldwide winner will be announced.
Nelson suggested that the parents’ ethnicity may be playing a role in the case. “The parents and children are all U.S. citizens,” said their attorney. But the court-appointed guardian for the children is trying to take away their passports.
“These are people of Chinese descent, and it’s as if authorities see some dark cloud here or fear there’s something more to this than this one incident.”
However, the Omaha paper referred to “California documents” that state Wang and Fu have “a ‘previous history of domestic violence,’ explaining that the father restrained the mother after she threatened to leave during a 2008 argument.”
In an interview with the Omaha paper, Fu seemed to be making a special plea to authorities on her daughter’s behalf, saying “this whole thing has nothing to do with Alice. She has become the ultimate victim.” And traveling to South Korea “would be a lifetime opportunity for her. It would be devastating for her to not go.”
Kathie Osterman with Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services said her agency “is working with California to get the kids back home. I don’t know what the time frame might be, because there are a lot of people to work with on this.”
Paul Sullivan, the Cass County deputy attorney handling the matter, did not return phone calls for comment.
Osterman could not say how unusual it was for authorities to remove children from parents visiting from another state and hold them for weeks so far from home. She did confirm that the court order required the foster family to monitor the children’s e-mail and telephone calls with their parents.
And it was details like that that have rallied dozens of supporters to the parents’ side, including 10 who have made the trip to Nebraska for today’s court hearing.
Nebraska officials said they are simply carrying out a court order meant to protect the children. But Markosian, who is the boy’s assistant scoutmaster and who helped organize a news conference Tuesday evening at the Omaha Children’s Museum, said Nebraska was guilty of overkill.
“These kids are very much involved in the Palo Alto community, with Boy Scouts, art and Chinese lessons,” said Markosian. “And they are being ripped away from not only their family but from their whole community.”
Markosian on Tuesday read aloud from an e-mail he says Alice sent June 17 to her parents.
“Dear Mom and Dad,” it said. We “love you a lot. Remember that. We know you’re doing everything you can to bring us back home and we are very thankful. Love you a lot.”
Markosian said the girl signed her e-mail with 10 exclamation points.
California artist to head home
BY KARYN SPENCER
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — A young award-winning artist and her brother are expected to return to California after spending a month in Nebraska foster care.
“This is absolutely the best outcome that could have happened,” said Sharon Silverman, one of more than a dozen friends and supporters who flew from California to attend a Wednesday hearing in Cass County Court.
Alice Fuzi Wang, 12, the artist, and her 13-year-old brother have been in a Nebraska foster home since an argument during a family trip a month ago.
The family had traveled to Omaha for an art exhibit that features Alice’s painting, which won the North American division of the International Children’s Painting Competition. The family was scheduled to go to an Aug. 17 award ceremony in South Korea.
Instead, the children were put in a foster home after parents Suwen Wang, a physicist, and Charlotte Fu, a paralegal, were accused of hitting their son June 6 in Plattsmouth. The parents deny the allegation, and feared their daughter would miss the trip.
Cass County Judge John Steinheider approved an agreement to send the children home in the care of California’s social services department.
Attorneys on the case came to the agreement this week after Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services staff and their California counterparts developed a plan.
The children got to visit their parents and friends at an Omaha hotel Tuesday. “The children really want to come home,” Fu said, her lip quivering, before the hearing.
The parents’ attorneys have said the case was moving too slowly. HHS attorney Susan Buettner said: “The most important thing has been lost: This is a case that involved alleged child abuse.”
California authorities proposed requiring the parents to complete a 16-week parenting program, continue family therapy, allow social worker visits and refrain from corporal punishment, according to a copy filed earlier in Nebraska court. Lawyers did not say in court whether those were the conditions of the new plan.