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Published June 14, 2013, 02:36 PM

Petition seeks foster care for siblings of infant girl left in van

Clay County officials won’t ask a judge here to terminate the parental rights of a couple whose 5-month-old girl died after she was forgotten in the family’s van for about four hours Tuesday.

By: Wendy Reuer, Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Clay County officials won’t ask a judge here to terminate the parental rights of a couple whose 5-month-old girl died after she was forgotten in the family’s van for about four hours Tuesday.

But citing in court records the filthy conditions in the apartment as well as its broken toilet, a county social worker is requesting that the parents’ five children be left in foster care until the parents complete a plan to address the safety and well-being of their children.

On Tuesday night, the five children – three boys ages 6, 5, and 1½, along with two girls ages 7 and 3 – were put in foster care on a “police hold” after Shayna and Andrew Sandstrom’s infant daughter, Christina Sandstrom, was found dead, according to a child protection petition filed Thursday in Clay County District Court.

Andrew Sandstrom told police he took his wife to work Tuesday and then went to the park, according to the petition.

After that, the father said he took a nap, and started looking for Christina. He said he realized he may have left her in the car and thought she may have been there for about four hours, according to allegations in the petition from Rachel Brause, a child protection specialist for Clay County Social Services.

Police said Wednesday that the investigation of the death is ongoing, but it appears to be an accident. After conducting the investigation, Moorhead police will forward reports to prosecutors, who will decide whether to file criminal charges.

Christina was found in her car seat, with the vehicle’s windows rolled up and the ignition off. Temperatures were in the low 80s on Tuesday. Her body was taken to St. Paul for an autopsy.

Shayna Sandstrom said she had called Andrew at least twice during the day to ask how the kids were doing, and he said “fine,” according to the petition.

Police said Wednesday the couple were “inconsolable” after Christina’s death.

According to the petition for child protection, conditions in the home were filthy enough to present a “potential safety hazard” and that the “toilet had not been working for what appeared to be some time.”

A hearing is scheduled on the petition for 10:30 a.m. today in Clay County District Court.

At that time, a judge may grant custody of the children to Clay County Social Services.

In addition to the safety conditions cited, social workers allege protective custody is needed because the children are “without proper parental care because of the emotional, mental, or physical disability” of the parents.

If the judge approves Social Service’s request, the Sandstroms will have to follow a case plan that includes supervised visitation with the children while they are in foster care.

The case plan also requires Andrew and Shayna Sandstrom to complete a parental capacity evaluation including intelligence tests. The family must also participate in home therapy and trauma counseling.

It is not yet known whether the Sandstroms have hired an attorney.

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