By Samantha Swindler

The Oregonian

Four years after their son was placed into foster care, a Deschutes County judge has determined that Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler can parent both their boys.

Thursday’s decision about the couple’s older son occurred three weeks after the same judge ordered the Redmond couple’s 10-month-old son, Hunter, returned to them. Now, 4-year-old Christopher is on a track to come home, as well.

The boys have spent almost their entire lives in foster care based on the state’s concerns that Fabbrini and Ziegler were intellectually incapable of caring for their children.

In each case, no abuse had been alleged, but Fabbrini’s family raised concerns to the Oregon Department of Human Services about the couple’s parenting abilities. In court, the state’s arguments centered on the parents’ cognitive and “executive functioning” skills. Fabbrini’s IQ has tested at 72, Ziegler’s at 66. The average IQ falls between 90 and 110.

The couple lives in a home purchased by Ziegler’s out-of-state parents. He has a driver’s license, a high school diploma and is working nights in the mailroom of The Bulletin. Fabbrini has a high school diploma and has worked as a grocery clerk. Both have taken parenting, nutrition and CPR classes in attempts to prove their fitness to the state.

In court, an attorney for the Department of Human Services offered instances of the parents’ alleged deficiencies, including that they didn’t read to the children, forgot to put sunscreen on the baby and brought fried chicken nuggets as a snack when they should have chosen a healthier food.

Circuit Judge Bethany Flint determined there wasn’t enough evidence to show the couple couldn’t safely parent. Fabbrini’s attorney, Jamie Gerlitz, said Flint found a key witness for the state not credible, and Flint called omissions in the state’s timeline of events “suspicious.”

Last month, Flint dismissed the state’s case regarding Hunter. On Thursday, she denied the state’s request to terminate the couple’s parental rights to Christopher. A review hearing will be held in two weeks. Until then, the parents can have unsupervised visits with Christopher while the state puts in place a plan to gradually reunite Christopher with Fabbrini and Ziegler without abruptly taking the child from his foster parents, with whom he has lived since days after his birth.

“I think the system is broken. DHS has a lot of power, and it’s really scary that it’s taken these people four years to be heard,” Gerlitz said.