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?

Mom Pleading Guilty?

So Joyful’s and Watchful’s mom has changed her mind and is going to plead guilty to criminal charges of child abuse.  So they say.  I want it to be true, but we can’t know for sure until she actually goes before the judge and enters her plea.  We’ve got a little less than two weeks until she does so.

Why am I skeptical?  Well, she originally confessed to the police and social workers.  Then she changed her mind and decided to plead not guilty – despite her confession, despite physical evidence, despite having a record of child abuse, etc.  At the last hearing in the child custody/foster care case,  she was seeking to get the children back by alleging that signing up for parenting classes should suffice (not actually taking the classes, just signing up).  It doesn’t seem that her approach to both her criminal and civil court cases follow logic.

The good news is that if mom pleads guilty to child abuse, 10-year-old Joyful and 8-year-old Watchful won’t need to testify in court.  (Backstory on this at: Kids have to testify against parents.)  They have the option of writing a victim impact statement, that would be read at sentencing.  The statement helps the judge get a sense of how severely hurt the children were by their mom’s actions, which he can weigh into decisions on how long her jail time will be.

People involved in the kids’ case have varying thoughts about the children providing victim impact statements.  Some feel that it would be damaging to the children in the long run – when they grow up they may realize that they had a part in putting mom behind bars and suffer feelings of guilt.  Some feel it would be healing -the kids have been powerless to stop the abuse previously and now they could be empowered to help put an end to it.

As for my husband and I as foster parents?  We really don’t get much of a say.  We push back where we can where we feel it’s in the kids’ best interests.  We tell the social workers, the GAL, the CASA, and the therapists how the children react to being asked to testify, or their strong desire for them mom to be behind bars forever, or their terror that in a year or two she will be out and able to hurt them again.  We are speaking for the children who cannot speak for themselves, and as I type this, I realize that that really does count from something.