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Emily Welker, Published June 14 2013

Siblings of girl who died in van put in foster care

MOORHEAD – A judge here ruled Friday that the siblings of a 5-month-old baby girl who died after she was left alone for hours in a van Tuesday should be placed in foster care.

Responding to a 911 call from the infant girl’s father, Moorhead police found Christiana Sandstrom dead Tuesday about 8:30 p.m. in a van with the windows and doors closed at the family’s home at 1103 19th St. S.

According to a child protection petition filed by Clay County Social Services, Andrew Sandstrom – the father who was watching the family’s six kids, all under the age of 7 – told police he had been napping and looked for the baby when he woke up. She was forgotten in the van, still in her car seat. Her father told police he thinks she was there about four hours. Temperatures were in the low 80s at the time.

Their mother, Shayna Sandstrom, told police she called Andrew twice from work to ask about the children and he told her they were fine, according to the petition.

Police have said the girl was accidentally left in the van, but the investigation is ongoing and will be sent to prosecutors to consider for possible criminal charges.

The five other children in the home – three boys ages 6, 5, and 1½ along with two girls ages 7 and 3 – were taken from the home Tuesday night and placed on a temporary basis with their maternal grandmother.

County social workers on Thursday filed a petition to put the children in foster care, citing filthy conditions in the home and a toilet that hadn’t been working for some time. The petition also claimed the children are “without proper parental care because of the emotional, mental or physical disability” of the parents.

In a hearing on the child protection petition Friday in Clay County District Court, Judge Michelle Lawson ordered that the children be placed in foster care. The grandmother does not live in the area, isn’t licensed as a foster home and doesn’t plan to seek a license.

The Sandstroms will need to complete a case plan set by social workers to get custody of their children.

Clay County Attorney Attorney Brian Melton would not describe what sort of timeline the Sandstroms would have to complete the case plan.

“It depends – each case is unique unto itself,” he said.

Details of what would be included in the case plan were not mentioned during the hearing, but county social workers included 12 recommendations in the petition filed in court. They included a parental capacity evaluation and intensive in-home therapy and trauma therapy for the couple.

The parents will be able to visit the children while they are in foster care under the custody of Clay County Social Services.

Melton said case plans are designed with the best interests of the children in mind. They can end with parents being reunited with the children or with children being placed in permanent foster care. He said he couldn’t say whether all five children would be in the same foster home.

“It’s always a priority, but not always the easiest thing to do, especially when there’s multiple children involved,” Melton said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Attorney Mara Rausch was appointed by the court to represent Andrew Sandstrom, with Shawn Schmidt appointed to represent Shayna Sandstrom.

Andrew Sandstrom declined to speak, saying his attorney advised against it.

“The family is requesting some time to grieve, some space to grieve in this difficult time,” Rausch said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541