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Authorities: Maria to be placed with foster family in Bulgaria

By Laura Smith-Spark and Radina Gigova, CNN
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
This young girl, reportedly named Maria, was taken in by authorities Thursday, October 17, after she was found in a Roma community near Farsala, Greece. A Roma couple was initially charged with abducting her and falsifying official documents, and the case has generated huge interest in Greece. This young girl, reportedly named Maria, was taken in by authorities Thursday, October 17, after she was found in a Roma community near Farsala, Greece. A Roma couple was initially charged with abducting her and falsifying official documents, and the case has generated huge interest in Greece.
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'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Social workers will try to help parents improve living conditions so children can return
  • Maria will be cared for by a foster family in Bulgaria, authorities there say
  • Her birth parents were found to be a Roma couple in Bulgaria
  • The couple's other underage children will now be cared for by authorities

(CNN) -- A blond girl found in Greece whose birth parents were traced to a Bulgarian Roma village will be cared for by a foster family when she's returned to Bulgaria, the government's social services agency said

Maria, as the girl was known by the Roma couple with whom she was living in central Greece, was at the center of an international mystery after police discovered her.

DNA tests eventually showed that Saska Ruseva and her husband, Atanas Rusev, were her biological parents.

Her mother told CNN that she wants her child back -- but that seems unlikely to happen for now.

Maria, now being cared for by Greek children's charity Smile of a Child, will instead be cared for by a foster family.

The parents and their nine children have been living in poverty in a tumbledown, one-room mud brick house in the village of Nikolaevo, in central Bulgaria.

Emil Todorov, director of the Children Protection Department of Bulgaria's Agency for Social Assistance, told CNN it was not yet clear what documents Maria would arrive with.

Bulgaria's State Child Protection Agency has yet to say exactly when and how the girl will be brought from Greece, he said. Her interactions with her birth family will be determined by who is named as her legal guardian, he said.

The Agency for Social Assistance is also taking action to care for the Bulgarian parents' seven underage children.

READ: Inside Nikolaevo village, Maria's 'other' home

The two youngest, ages 2 and 3, will stay with one foster family, said Todorov. Two other children will stay with another foster family, and a 15-year-old will stay with family members.

The remaining two, ages 8 and 12, will be staying at a specialized institution, because no appropriate foster families are available to take them in, he said.

Working with the parents

The placement of the children in foster care is only a temporary stage, Todorov said.

The goal is to give the parents the chance to improve their living conditions -- in which case they can be reunited with their children. Social services will help the parents find a job, he said.

"We have to work with both parents, so that they can expand their parental potential," said Todorov.

While the children are in foster care, social workers will encourage frequent meetings with their parents, so that the family maintains its emotional connection, he said.

READ: Bulgarian mother of little Roma girl wants her back

"We don't take away the children," he said. "We count on the collaboration by the whole family to cope with this difficult situation."

The Agency for Social Assistance said it had determined the parents had another child too, who was "abandoned by her parents and raised by a family in another city."

Bulgarian police are investigating the Rusevs on suspicion they sold Maria for illegal adoption. A Greek Roma couple -- Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulo -- who were found looking after the girl are in custody, charged with kidnapping.

Daughter given away, says mother

Ruseva told CNN that she and her husband left for Greece in 2009 to look for farm work. She says she left her eldest daughter Katia, now 20 years old, to care for the family while they were away.

Ruseva says she was so thin she did not realize she was pregnant with Maria. "I didn't know I was pregnant. I didn't even have a belly," she said.

Maria -- whom Ruseva originally named Stanka -- was born in a hospital in the Greek town of Lamia, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from Farsala and the Roma camp where she was discovered this month.

Ruseva said she cared for Maria for seven months while her husband worked in poorly paying odd jobs, picking fruit and vegetables. They often slept in the streets or nearby olive groves, as they had so little money.

Then one day, when they took a job picking oranges, a woman offered to take care of their daughter and they gave her to the woman because they couldn't care for her themselves, Ruseva said. She denies selling the baby, saying she loves her and wants her back.

CNN's Karl Penhaul contributed to this report.

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