Win or Lose in Court?

A few weeks ago I wrote that I was going to testify in court.  I’ve been trying to figure out if we won or lost.  Tell me what you think.

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The Victim Services advocate greeted my husband and me as we entered the county court house.  She led us to a tiny witness waiting room.  It contained a small table, four chairs and that’s it.  No art on the walls.  No windows.  I sat in a plastic chair, nervously going over the notes I had jotted down for my testimony.  My job was to tell the judge how the abuse has impacted the 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) arrived.  Then the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) showed up with a GAL-in-training.  We made small talk as we waited for our trial to begin.

A lady walked into the foyer outside the courtroom.  I greeted her and she noted that she was there to be a support the kids’ mom, who was up on criminal charges.  My guess was that she was a Christian who befriended people in jail.  Over the next hour, mom’s family members trickled in to show their support.

The kids’ dad showed up next.  I walked over to him to apologize that I was going to have say some very difficult things when I testified.  He said he understood.

Our case was called.  We all filed in, with those supporting mom sitting on the right-hand side and those for the children sitting on the left-hand side.  It made me feel so sad that there wasn’t a place to sit to signify you are for both.

The judge decided to disallow all other testimony except mine and mom’s.  Awkward!!

The state lawyer called me up on the witness stand.  As I sat perched in front of everyone, my stomach flip flopped.  Please God let me say what needs to be said, I silently prayed.  The state lawyer asked me about the impact of mom’s actions and I listed all of the major symptoms the children have displayed while living in our home for the past nine months.  Just the facts, no judgement value, but I gave examples.  It was a long and heart-breaking list.  Many people in the court room started to cry.

Mom made her statement.  By and large she took responsibility for her actions, expressed remorse, and said the sort of things that would help the children heal if they ever read the testimony once they are old enough.

The state attorney had thought the sentence would be in the 2 year range and had asked me to testify to support his request to the judge to pass a longer sentence.  Mom got 8 years.

So, the kids are safe for the next 8 years.  But their family is fractured beyond repair.  Win or Loss?

Trip to the Doctor’s

I took 9-year-old Watchful to the doctor’s office.  Ever since he arrived at our house, we’ve been saying that he frequently skips meals when he’s upset. We shared his dad’s concerns about this weight loss.  Now that more than half a year has gone by, the County calls up and demands we immediately take him to the doctor.
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I’m on board with this and agree.  It’s been three months since he had his last check up, so it will be good to see how he’s doing.  The social worker had called Thursday night to make this request. The social worker calls me early Monday morning, demanding to know why I haven’t taken him to the doctor’s yet.  I explain that all day Friday was foster care hearings, the clinic was closed over the weekend, so this is my first chance to call.  I plan to take him in today.  The social worker says if I’m too busy to make the appointment, she can do it.  What????  Seriously?  They have ignored this issue for months and months, and suddenly they can’t wait one day??   But I take a deep breath.  I am glad that this new social worker really cares and doesn’t want issues to linger on the back burner.
 Any way, back to the doctor’s appointment.  Have you ever had to explain that you’ll need a doctor who is comfortable treating children who have been abused?  It’s awkward.  First, you tell the receptionist that you’ll need a longer appointment time.  Then, the receptionist transfers you to a nurse.  The nurse asks you tons of questions.  Then she says you need a special pediatrician who only works certain days.  Ok, so now you have an appointment.  You arrive at the doctor’s office.  The receptionist looks at you and looks at the child and realizes your skin tones don’t match.  This prompts her to ask you about your relationship.  You say foster mom. She asks if you have the right to seek medical care for your child.  Yes, it’s in your records.  She says no it’s not.  You say yes it is.  She says no it’s not.  You say yes it is.  She says, oh yeah, you’re right.
The nurse calls you back, but then makes your child sit in the waiting room so she can grill you about foster care.  You explain, hoping that your foster kiddo is not freaking about being in the waiting room by himself.  The nurse calls him in -he’s looking a bit anxious.  The doctor arrives.  He sends your foster kid out again and grills you about foster care.  The doctor spends some time freaking out about the complexities of your child’s case.  Then the doctor calls your child back in, who is now looking decidedly upset.  The visit wraps up in two hours.  Yes, two hours.  Because everyone is just so worked up about the abuse history.  Any way, you’re supposed to take the kiddo to get blood work done at the lab.  However, this doesn’t happen because the kiddo is now in melt down city.
Luckily, the nearest pediatrician’s office that takes the State’s insurance is twenty minutes from home.  This is lucky, because your kiddo needs this time to switch gears from melt down mode to moderate anxiety.  Even twenty minutes later, kiddo still is too worked up to go to school, so the two of you head to the grocery store.  It’s actually kind of fun to try food samples together.  He gets to choose lots of the food for the family – broccoli, salmon, and even a huge danish for breakfast tomorrow.  You are both now in a happy place.  You drop him at school and go back home.  Once at the house, you dash off a quick email to update the social worker on the medical items.
The social worker somehow miraculously immediately reads your email and calls you to discuss.  You repeat what was in the email.  She proposes her own medical solutions that are different from the doctor’s.  You give her the doctor’s number to directly talk about her crazy ideas unique thoughts on treatment options.
You call your hubby and strategize how to get the blood work done.  You talk about different ways to reduce the anxiety levels so the kiddo can sit still enough for the blood to be drawn.  You come up with a plan to take him the next day.
Whew!  Doctor’s visit accomplished after just six short hours!

Testifying at Court

In a few days, I’ll be testifying on behalf of 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful. Boy, do I want to do right by them. But what is “doing right”?

Their mom has plead guilty to child abuse and now its time for the judge to hand down the sentence.

I’ve been asked to provide a victim impact statement, that informs the judge about how the abuse has affected the children.

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So what should I say? I’ve thought long and hard about what a regular ol’ person like me can contribute. And here’s what I think.

The various professionals have written down in dry medical terms or “bureaucrat-ese” or legal talk what has happened. But I can speak with emotion from the heart. I can speak in plain, every day language that draws a vivid, true picture. As a foster family, we’ve lived together day in and day out and I’ve seen all the different ways the abuse has played out, big and small. I’m the one there when his self hatred gets the best of him and he starts punching himself. I’m the one there when she isolates herself from other young girls and sits alone for hours.

So while the professionals use fancy words like suicidal ideation and depressive tendencies, here’s the kind of thing I’ll say.

A few days ago, Watchful couldn’t sleep, so he and I sat in the living room at 4:30 in the morning and chatted. Some of the things we talked about were quite normal – like how much he likes his new Superman socks. Other topics of conversation were much more heart breaking – like Watchful’s desire to kill himself. His suicidal thoughts come up quite a bit; sometimes when under stress like having to go somewhere new he’ll be very specific about how he will kill himself – like jumping out a window or choking himself. Other times, it’s very casual, like it was on Thursday when we were exploring which career he’d like to pursue when he grows up and he calmly explained that he just can’t stand the idea of having to live for that many years and plans on killing himself “soon,” so really there’s no point in thinking about what job he’d like when he grows up.

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish the children luck!