"Don't take my baby.........don't take my baby........you can't take my baby...."
I've been doing a bit of work in the abuse/neglect arena of social services. I swore up and down I wanted no part of this area of law when I started in this job. But then I began to miss the courtroom and trial work. I missed the excitement of trials. I started attending juvenile court and helped out with some research and such. I became more and more involved. Fast forward to today when, in the interest of "cross-training," I am handling the child welfare docket once per month.
I am enjoying this work immensely. I know that there is no way I could have handled these cases even one year ago - definitely not in the midst of those three years of intense healing. Now, however, I am working to achieve a balance between legal objectivity and panic-induced over-awareness. It hasn't been a perfect balance, and it continues to be a struggle, but one worth fighting.
Recently I observed a case. I watched a stone-faced mother sit in court and tell the judge that yes, she was still living with the man that the court found to have sexually assaulted her ten year old daughter. I kept staring at this mother. The social workers hoped that hearing all the facts at trial would get through to this woman. But it did not. Getting the mother involved in a non-offending parent therapy program has not helped. The mother showed up in court this time proud that she had completed all the items on her check-list - substance abuse assessment, psychological evaluation, non-offending parent therapy. The Judge point-blank told the mother that it didn't matter how many boxes she checked - until the Judge could be assured that this child would be safe in the mother's home, the child was not going home. Not just this child (the victim) but all the children (the two siblings too). I wanted to stand up and cheer, "Go Your Honor!"
In another case where the boyfriend is accused of molesting a young girl, the father was brought to trial from jail, where he is serving time. He sat next to the father of this girl's brother. Both men are serving time. I saw the men whispering. I saw the looks they were shooting to the mother and her boyfriend. I needed to discuss some matters with these men and ask them if they wished to be transported in for further hearings. They adamantly said, "yes." My surprise must have showed on my face. These men have no chance of being reunited with their children or of playing any meaningful role in their lives - both are serving long-term sentences. One of the men remarked, "I'm gonna be here to listen to the trial. If I find out that man hurt that child.......well I have friends on the outside. And I'm already serving one life sentence for murder. Another won't matter." The man speaking wasn't even the girl's father, but rather the father of the brother. The daughter's dad said, "Let him [boyfriend] get in here. He'll be taken care of." I couldn't help it. I smiled. I nodded. That man stood a notch higher in my eye.
Today was my first hearing where I requested a child come into foster care. The mother isn't an overly terrible person. She is just clueless. She lacks all motivation. Even the filing of this action against her didn't spur action. Perhaps the child coming out of her care will help. I heard her wailing behind me, "Don't take my baby......" It wasn't as hard to hear as I thought it might. This child deserves a better chance. He deserves to go to school the entire year and not miss half the school days because his mother can't get up on time. He deserves to learn to read and write, and have a parent who does more than sit him in front of computer tutoring programs.
I'm expecting some tough times as I take on more in this area of work. I have made it clear that I do not want to handle any serious sexual assault cases or any cases where children are testifying. That wouldn't be good for me - or the case.
This isn't what I pictured myself doing. But I'm feeling good about it. I feel like I'm making a difference.
At our staff meetings, awards are given out to nominated employees for going "above and beyond." One of the social workers was nominated based on a letter sent from a former foster child. The child wrote, "Ten years ago I told you that a bad man hurt me. You believed me. It made all the difference in the world. Thank you."
I don't want thanks. But I do want to make a difference. Fighting through the healing process is letting me do that.