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.

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.