Monday, February 15, 2010
I have been at my current job for one year now. In some respects it seems like just yesterday I was slaving away at the firm. Said firm has self-destructed over the past year. My mentor/senior litigation partner passed away; the senior partner became "of counsel," another partner left, and the attorney they hired to replace us all, left too. Also gone are five assistants. Looking back, the timing of my escape was definitely in the knick of time and I have zero regrets.
When I started this job, the program managers for my area joked to the child welfare (abuse, neglect, dependency) folks that they needed to stay away because they could not "steal me to their side." No issues there, I thought. I'd never be able to handle that stuff. I'll just stick to numbers (child support) and old people.
Because I still had some spare hours, I was asked to help with some legal pleadings. A few months later I started hanging out in juvenile court. Mainly I go to court one day a week and listen to review hearings. Then I draft the Orders that talk about whether parents are doing what they need to be doing in order to regain custody of their children. Sometimes I go back and read the underlying trial notes to gain some perspective.
I've not met these children. I didn't attend the trials. I see the parents for a few short moments in court for their reviews. I read the reports of social workers, psychologists and others. However, in the year I've been at this job, I've got to know certain families. There are those whose stories are so horrible that I can't help remember. There are those where I see parents doing in 180 and making such progress that I can't help but be hopeful. There are those families that bounce between juvenile court, support court and jail.
I've become friends with one of the juvenile attorneys. We scrapbook together now. She is a trained social worker who went to law school. We bounce ideas off each other. We discuss policies and philosophies in handling cases. Our boss, who is also new to this position, has now decided to form us into a "legal team" which requires some cross-training. So now I'm attending trainings and meetings on juvenile law. It started out as being just enough to allow me to cover for the other attorneys if necessary.
In law school I loved my family and juvenile courses. My first year out of law school I clerked in a probation related field and worked with the younger offenders. My second summer I clerked as defense counsel for juvenile delinquents and mentally ill juveniles. I thought family law was the best place for me, although I did briefly consider education law.
I've fought against going back to juvenile law. Me? Deal with abuse cases? No way.......
The other day I was writing an Order and typing our usual language -
It is apparent that further efforts to reunify the child with the Father would clearly be futile and inconsistent with the child’s need for a safe and permanent home within a reasonable period of time and such efforts should therefore cease.
These words that I have typed hundreds of times before leaped off the page at me.
Such powerful words. With them, the social workers are no longer required to work closely with the Father. His rights were being stripped away....slowly but surely. It occurred to me how powerful this simple, 41 word sentence is. How much impact it will have on the life of this child.
I've been asked to serve on a juvenile committee. I've been asked to see a juvenile case through from start to finish - the one that has arisen involves burns to a three year little child that appear to arise from being "dipped" into scalding water. Instead of getting bogged down in the emotions and horror as I might have done not long ago, I find myself excited about the opportunity to make a difference. The pangs of emotions I feel toward this child are being channeled into making sure it doesn't happen again.
I've talked with my friend, the other attorney, who, if things go according to plan, will be the lead attorney, and therefore my superior. I explained, without detail, my desire to avoid sexual abuse cases for now. She thinks we can arrange that.
I'm not sure what the future holds. I know that I am being pulled strongly in this direction. It is where my heart is. I feel God is leading me this way. Perhaps, I can use my experiences and struggles to do some good for other children. I hope and pray I can keep the passion and not become numb to the details of cases, while at the same time, maintaining enough objectivity to do a good job. For now, I will still be working with my main areas of focus. However, the next several months hold much training and observation for me. I'm excited to learn more.
As I embark on this journey, I'm reminded of this quote and resolve, all the more, not to be a bystander ---- "Thou shalt not wish or deserve to be a victim. Thou shalt certainly not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt never be a bystander." -Holocaust Memorial, Washington DC