Adoption is Second Best Choice

Wow. With a title like “Adoption is Second Best Choice,” I’m sure many readers are riled up. But let me explain.

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Child birth, adoption, or foster care are all equally wonderful, fulfilling ways of becoming a parent. The children are equally wonderful, regardless of how they joined your family. I know, because I’m the mother of a biological daughter, adopted son, a foster daughter, and foster son.

Soon, a judge will decide whether our 11-year-old foster daughter Joyful and 9-year-old foster son Watchful will be reunited with their bio dad, or whether his rights will be terminated and the children become available for adoption.

Joyful and Watchful’s bio dad has made a lot of progress in making his home the safest, healthiest option for his children. While there’s been ups and downs, hopes and doubts over the past year, we have been cheering him on. We hope he’s able to take the final needed steps and bring Joyful and Watchful home.

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In this process, one thing has become very clear to me. When birth parents want to parent, society should help them fix whatever problems are preventing them from meeting their children’s needs. Hooked on drugs? Support parents in detox. Suffering from mental illness? Give them counseling or medical treatment.

But what if Joyful and Watchful’s dad can’t or doesn’t make the last few final changes? The children should not be stuck in foster care limbo indefinitely – they’ll have been in foster care 18 months by the time the judge rules. They need a permanent home with permanent parents. They need permanent love and permanent safety.

If birth parents are given help, but still can’t fix the problems that endanger children’s health and well-being, well then adoption is the best route.

This makes reuniting with birthparents the first choice and adoption the second best option.

It makes me feel a little funny to think of adoption as a “second best” option.  After all, we adopted Silent One when he was six, and he brings so much joy to our lives.

I only met Silent One’s birth mother once, but she clearly let me know that she chose adoption because her country did not have social programs to help guarantee her (our) son’s safety. Every day, I am grateful that she put Silent One’s well being before all else. But I am also saddened that her country didn’t have welfare, counseling, and other such services. I love Silent One with my whole heart. He loves me with his whole heart. But losing his birth family colors his world view about relationships, his identity and his sense of self worth. He shouldn’t have had to lose a mother who loved him and wanted to parent him.

No Bohns About It

This post is part of Adoption Talk Link Up.

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?

Major Court Drama

We walked into the court room, slipping into our seats behind Joyful and Watchful’s dad and lawyer. To our right, the GAL and county lawyer stood in the middle of the room. Furtherest away was their mom and her lawyer. Little did I know that drama was about to unfold.

The children’s lawyer (aka guardian ad litem or GAL) alleged that the county is not appropriately supervising visits, which has allowed horrible things such as emotional abuse, violations of court protective orders, and witness tampering to occur. Naturally, this pissed off the county lawyer who felt embarrassed and thrown under the bus in front of the judge. Apparently, she’s been telling the GAL this is a personnel issue that should be dealt with through human resources. The GAL countered that the county has had time to remedy the situation and has not, so it must be brought before the judge in order to best protect the children. So the county foster care agency was in hot water with the judge.

But they weren’t the only ones in the judge’s crosshairs. One of the parents was accused of taking advantage of the county’s missteps, and abusing/violating protective orders/tampering with witnesses when social workers were either not present or when a substitute social worker was supervising visits. Their lawyers alleged that this was a cultural misunderstanding, but I don’t think anyone’s buying that argument.

And the third party that the judge was angry with? The psychiatrist who evaluated the parents nearly four months, but hasn’t typed up and handed in reports to the county or the court.

We also learned that not a single one of the relatives that the county has approached have stepped forward as possible new homes for Watchful or Joyful. How could people walk away from their own family like that – these are little kids just 10, 8 and 4 years old!

The judge laid out a boat load of actions that must be taken within 10 days or various people will be held in contempt. He also has suspended all visits until further notice.

The upshot is that the foster parents of the kids involved (us + another family) are being called in as witnesses next week.

So, how does one keep a good working relationship with social workers if you’re being asked to testify about their negligence? How do you “bridge the gap” and maintain relationships with the parents if you’re testifying against them, too?

The GAL is coming to our house to chat in a few hours. This is all very bizarre.

Kids Have to Testify Against Parents

So we just learned that the kids will need to testify against their parents. We had been fighting against it, but we have lost that battle. Now, I need to figure out the least traumatizing path forward.

But let me back up for a moment and explain why we fought against 8 year old Watchful and 10 year old Joyful testifying and why we lost.

Testifying can wring you out emotionally. All eyes are on you as lawyers pepper you with questions, and complete strangers listen to you recount some of the most private, painful and embarrassing times in your life. All of these questions dredge up memories of the horrors you have lived through. It feels like you are reliving your worst nightmares. You want to answer correctly, but sometimes you doubt yourself, and you are not sure what the consequences will be because of your answers. The whole court process is strange, new, and scary to you.

Now imagine you are just an elementary school child, so young and vulnerable. Imagine that your testimony will help determine whether your parents go to jail. Whether you will ever get to live with them again. What a huge burden for an 8 and 10 year old to bear!!!

In our county, social services often does not agree to allow the defense lawyers to depose abused children as it is so traumatic, and the lawyers can use the transcript from the CPS worker’s interview of the children upon initial placement into foster care. Since lawyers do not like to put a witness on the stand when they don’t know what the witness will say, kids aren’t often called to court. However, in this case, the county prosecutor wants to interview the children, so social services will not contest it.

Back to the path forward. We need to first figure out how and when to break the news. Probably hubby and I will tell them one evening after summer camp. Do we have their GAL explain court or do we let the county prosecutor do that? On the one hand, the kids have met the GAL once before and she is experienced in working with kids. On the other hand, the county prosecutor would be one-stop shopping – get it all over with in one go.

Then, we need to talk with the therapist. Only Watchful has a therapist, so maybe I can use this as a prod to get Joyful into therapy, which has been slow to materialize. Hopefully, the therapist will have good insight into handling the emotional impact of helping to imprison one’s parents.

And we’ll need to begin lobbying the social worker and prosecutor to allow hubby and I to be present during the interview process. That probably means laying groundwork with the CASA and GAL to have allies for getting our request approved. If we’re there, we can provide emotional support to Joyful and Watchful, and pragmatically it would help keep us in the loop.

I also need to drop an FYI to our family’s social worker and to the kids’ brother’s foster family to keep folks up to speed. This helps our family’s worker be in a position to alert us to unforeseen issues. And we have an agreement with the other foster family to share info, which has proven invaluable in the past.

We’ll need to look for a date that works for the prosecutor, the kids’ social worker, the CASA, the kids and ourselves to do the interview. Ideally, this will be a different day than their visit with dad, therapy appointment and sibling visit. Too much on one day leads to massive melt downs.

We’ll be doing respite for their 4 year old brother Jumping Jack, so we’ll have to find county-approved child care or bring him along on the day of the interview.

All of this for what I think should be a straight forward case. Parents have already confessed. They have done this before. The injuries have been documented.

Guess I better get started on my to do list.