RATHDRUM, Idaho -- A KREM 2 on Your Side investigation revealed possible shortcomings in the Idaho foster care system that allowed a child to be placed with convicted criminals.
KREM 2 on Your Side first started looking into a little girl's removal from her foster mom, which provided a much deeper look into the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
The story began with a little girl, D, who had just turned 5-years-old. She was placed with a foster mom as an infant and was in the process of being permanently adopted by that foster mom. The state of Idaho then decided to take her away from Andy Butler, the only mom she had ever known.
Butler said she loved D since the state took the little girl from her biological mother at the age of 8-months-old. D's old room at Butler's home sat empty in May of 2014.
"It's just quiet and lonely," Butler said. "It doesn't have the life anymore."
For more than two-years, Butler took care of D as if she was her own child. The biological parents had voluntarily terminated their rights and the state started preparing Butler for permanent adoption.
But in late 2012, the state decided to place D with a new family; relatives of her biological father.
"She had never seen them," Butler said. "I mean, I don't know what her contact with them was prior to coming into my care, but she had never."
State officials told 2 on Your Side that those relatives expressed interest in adopting D in 2012 and were part of her life when she was a baby.
Officials said the family had previously adopted D's half-brother, which made them the best candidates for permanent placement.
"We firmly believe preserving cultural ties and keeping siblings together is a really high priority when you're looking at the long term health and happiness of a child," said Public Information Officer Niki Forbing-Orr of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Health and Welfare began scheduling visits between D and her relatives to help them develop a relationship. The visits continued for months, until Friday March 21. Butler dropped D off and was later notified by the state that she would not be picking her up.
"I received communication that transition had happened that morning and she was no longer in my care," said Butler.
A week later, she was offered a good-bye visit.
"Time was up and I hugged her and I told her I didn't want to leave her, but I had no choice," Butler said. "And she begged to come home with me."
KREM 2 on Your Side looked into the background of the new adoptive family and found at least three members of D's new family had criminal records.
The father has multiple convictions in Alaska, ranging from theft and forgery to harassment.
KREM 2 on Your Side also discovered two of the couple's adult sons have public records showing them living at the same home D will live in.
The 19-year-old had multiple convictions including theft, burglary, underage drinking and probation violations. The 33-year-old also had a criminal record, spanning several states and including criminal mischief, trespassing, theft and disorderly conduct.
The 33-year-old also led police on a high-speed chase across state lines in March according to records. He was convicted of stealing a car in Coeur d'Alene and refused to pull-over until he got to the Airway Heights Walmart parking lot, where he tried to flee again. Police arrested him immediately. He pleaded guilty to the charges against him. And at the beginning of May, he was extradited back to Idaho to face additional charges for a stolen vehicle and felony eluding.
KREM 2 on Your Side asked officials at Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare if they knew about these extensive criminal backgrounds.
Ward: "Did you also do a background check on the 2 adult sons that live in that home as well?"
DHW: "Yeah, the background checks are done on any adult living in the home."
Ward: "So, that would be a yes, you did?"
DHW: "Well a background check looks at all adults in the home."
Ward: "I'm just asking if there's a possibility, if they didn't say those children were living in that home, if they would have been included? And I'm just wondering if you did, in fact, do a background check on those two individuals?"
DHW: "Yeah, we really couldn't answer that one, Whitney."
Ward: "Why is that?"
DHW: "In all honesty, we don't know."
The department later told KREM 2, the older son did not go through a background check.The family said he has not lived at their home for 10 years and isn't allowed there.
However, court records in Washington and Idaho show his last known address as his parents' home. Department leaders also said the younger son did not go through a background check either, because state law doesn't require it until the age of 21. Officials said there is some "concern for the younger son's background that is now being reviewed and monitored."
The department confirmed the parents passed a background check through the FBI and Idaho State Police.
State officials said the current Idaho law only disqualifies families with convictions such as child abuse, kidnapping, rape, and other crimes against children. Other convictions, like misdemeanor forgery or fraud, may not be considered at all if they took place more than five years ago.
For Butler, that law is not enough.
"It's not a stable environment if you have people that are consistently making poor choices," Butler said.
The state said the little girl had been living with transitional foster parent since the day she was taken from Butler's care. That individual is paid by taxpayer dollars, designated to help D through the transition to her new family.
As of May 6, the Department of Health and Welfare says D has not been fully transitioned to her new adoptive parents, and she remains in the care of that transitional foster parent.