I attended a day of juvenile court this week. I am going to be helping with some overflow in the child protective services arena. It was a full docket. Non-secure custody hearings for abused, neglected and dependent children. Those determine placement. Review hearings which are hearings to determine if the parents are working through their case plans and doing what they need to get their children back. Determining if reunification with parents is goal or adoption or what. Adjudication - finding neglect, abuse or dependency. And termination of parental rights. I saw a bit of everything. The courtroom was packed with relatives of all shapes and sizes, foster care parents, social workers, guardian ad litems and attorneys.
I didn't know the backstory on most cases but I gathered enough to fill in most blanks. And the blanks are horrifying. I left court at lunch to go home and take care of my own sick child (who after 1 episode of getting sick managed to run around, play and eat anything she wanted, quite happy to be staying home -- but alas I digress). I am quite sure I do not want to work in this area long-term. I am, however, quite grateful that my area seems to have excellent attorneys and judges and social workers.
The first case I saw was a review for a teenager in a foster care situation. She was present in court. The Judge asked this young girl if she wanted to say anything. Also asked how she was doing. This was the last review hearing and this case was being closed. The Judge told the teen that she had a long road ahead of her, that she was going to have tough times. She told the girl to ask for help when needed, and to be willing to seek therapy, both now and when an adult. The Judge assured the girl that any resources she needed to assist in healing would be made available to her. At then end of that hearing, I felt good about how things had turned out.
The next case involved another teenager. I figured out that the teen was sitting with her older sister and BIL, who were now her caretakers. The girls; mother and mom's husband were there. During the case, the girl was startled to learn that husband is not her biological father. Mom doesn't know who the father might be. I'm not sure exactly what happened to this girl. I do know that she is now a pregnant, unwed teen. The mom suffers from bipolar disorder and refuses to seek treatment. The husband (previously thought to be dad) is a paranoid schizophrenic with PTSD stemming from his service in Vietnam. He refused treatment at first, but then consented. Due to a procedural error on mental health's part, the Judge was forced to postpone the final award of guardianship to the sister. In the meantime, mom promised, yet again, to work her steps. The Judge asked the young lady if she wished to speak. This young lady stood up, and looked straight at her mother and said, "I don't understand why you are now looking for loopholes to keep this case ongoing. You said in court last time you did not want counseling, and that you knew that meant giving me up. Why were you so willing to turn your back on me before, but now you are saying you want me back? I am happy where I am for the first time in a long time. Why can't you leave me alone?" I wanted to both cry and applaud this young lady. The Judge looked right at her and said, "that was very well said, and that is a great question - one that you are entitled to have answered. Unfortunately I can not answer that for you. But if you want, I will arrange for you to have a meeting with your mother and you can ask her." The whole time the daughter was speaking, the mother was making faces of astonishment and shaking her head. I wanted to slap her. It's apparent these parents had some mental health issues, but it is also apparent they were not seeking help.
Then there was the case where mom's boyfriend abused the children. Mom said, "well I got rid of him." But random checks revealed his belongings still at the house and car parked outside.
The last case I observed was pretty heart-wrenching. The mother was obviously pregnant. Daddy to one child was in federal prison. Daddy to second child was present in court but didn't care what happened. Daddy to third child (the one Mom was carrying) is a boyfriend that Mom is not supposed to have living with her. The two children are young and have some special needs. I do not know exactly what the situation was, but there was such severe anxiety after every visit with mom that the youngest would get sick. The foster parents testified to carrying bags and buckets in the car during visitation exchanges, because they knew the child would get sick. The mother was still fighting. The Judge lectured the mother, telling her, "This is your fault. You caused this."
Talk about flashbacks. They were everywhere. The first teen looked exactly like Erin's picture on her website. There were the parents that were mentally ill and refused treatment, like so many of my blogging buddies' parents. Then there was the mom who refused to truly kick out her boyfriend (could have been my mom). And the moms who thought it might "look bad" if they truly gave up - who were willing to put their kids through hell, just to save face.
I sure hope I don't have to do much of this work.