The head of the German consulate in Chicago was in Iowa Wednesday to formally thank state officials who helped a German woman get custody of her malnourished daughter. That girl — Sarah Neely, who is now 11 — was found shut in a barren bedroom in Winterset earlier this year. Her father and stepmother have been charged with child endangerment. Iowa authorities worked with German officials to get the child placed in her mother’s home in Germany. “For this, I would like to say thank you to all those involved,” said German Consul Wolfgang Drautz. Drautz said the Iowans he dealt with had “human feelings” and understood a young child’s happiness was at stake. Dagmar Schmidt, a German legal official who dealt directly with the case, came to Iowa, too. “I’m in a very, very happy position to tell you that the girl is doing fine,” Schmidt said. Neely immediately began attending school in Germany. Schmidt says a doctor and counselor monitor the girl to “give her the support she needs” after her ordeal. This is the first time an Iowa child removed from his or her home by state officials has been placed in a home overseas. “This went pretty fast considering all the legal complications that had to be taken care of and had to be evaluated,” Schmidt says. State officials have placed a few children in homes in Canada or Mexico, but never in a home on another continent. Another lawyer involved in the case says with the lines of communication that were open between Germany and Iowa, helping the child move into her mother’s home in Germany because almost as easy as relocating a child in a home in neighboring Nebraska.
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