Friday, December 19, 2014

Next Step: Mediation and Pre-Trial

Jack and Jill had another court hearing this past week regarding their future.  At their last Permanency Hearing, Reunification Services between their mother and DCFS were discontinued so their mother must now fulfill any unmet requirements of her Service Plan without the help of DCFS- even though the Division has provided her with plenty of resources and support over the last 15 months of having her children in their custody and even though the judge has already given her at least one 90-day extension.  Although services between DCFS & their mom have been discontinued she still has supervised visits with her children at the DCFS office twice a week for two hours each.  These visits will continue until her rights are officially terminated which leads to the next big question, "Will her parental rights be terminated?  And if so, when?"- which I'll try to explain in a minute.
The other major development since the last hearing is that their Permanency Goal has officially been changed from "Reunification" to "Adoption" by us as their foster family since no relatives are able to come forward so late in their case.
The whole legal process regarding their permanency is kind of confusing.  In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago I thought that this past week's hearing was the one where Jack and Jill's mother's parental rights would be terminated but it's a little more complicated than that:  Although the paperwork has been filed by DCFS to terminate her parental rights, there are going to be a couple of more hearings before the judge actually determines if that will happen:
The first hearing is not technically a regular hearing but rather a Mediation- which will take place over a month from now.  Although mediation will take place at court, it won't take place in a court room and the judge won't be there presiding or making any decisions.  Rather, a Mediator who is also an attorney and an objective third party will talk with both parties (their mother, being one party, and my husband and I, being the other party) and try to come up with an agreement to avoid having to go through another trial.  Other people in attendance are their mother's court appointed attorney, the children's G.A.L., and of course, the caseworker or anyone else involved in the children's case.
It was a couple of months ago that Jack and Jill's caseworker first mentioned to me that Mediation might be an option in their case.  I had heard of using a Mediator in divorce or child custody cases, but had a vague understanding of how it works in foster care cases.  So I did a little research and came across this helpful and very easy-to understand information packet put together specifically for parents and guardians by New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts & The Children's Courts Mediation Program (2007).  (Click on the picture for the entire document).
"Why Mediation?" you ask.  Here are the reasons why Mediation takes place in child abuse and neglect cases, as explained in the packet.  I circled the reason that best fits our foster children's case.  Click to enlarge.

Basically, things aren't looking good for Jack and Jill's mom.  She could very well lose her parental rights.  But rather than having to put her through another trial where "evidence" is presented attesting to the fact that she's an unfit parent, the legal/child welfare system is giving her a chance to possibly voluntarily relinquish her parental rights and thereby avoid having to go through yet another trial.
Regardless of the outcome of the Mediation- whether she decides to relinquish her parental rights and we can agree on an open or semi-open adoption, for example, or if she wants to fight till the very end to regain custody of her children-  the results of the Mediation will then be presented to the judge at the next formal hearing known as a Pre-Trial Hearing.  Depending on that Pre-Trial Hearing, there will be another hearing/trial where it will be decided if her rights will be terminated or not.  But like I said, if she decides to relinquish then there will be no need for a hearing to Terminate Parental Rights. 
At this point I think Jack and Jill's mother is going to keep fighting till she legally can't be given any more extensions or make any more appeals.  On the one hand, she knows her children have been well taken care of  in our home for over a year now and that our family loves them and she has expressed her thanks to me for that.  But even so, Jack and Jill are still her children (even though she hasn't been raising them for over a year now and they've spent more time in our home than anywhere else and she has never technically raised Jill nor has Jill known any other home than ours) and I can't imagine what it would be like to be told by a court of law- not just someone's personal unfavorable opinion of you-but through actual evidence and documentation and a legal trial- that you are unfit to parent and therefore, have to lose your children.  Even if much of where she is right now is a direct result of choices she's made, it's still a crappy place to be in.  For that reason, we've been trying to see things from her perspective. 

As for my perspective and my family's perspective, I think I've written enough in the past not just about Jack and Jill's case but about how difficult it has been with some of our other foster children as well to welcome them into our home as helpless little strangers and love them as if they were our own children while being very well aware of the fact that they aren't our children and then falling in love with them just to get our hearts broken when they leave and in some cases becoming sick with worry about the environment they're returned to live in. 
This is a VERY emotionally-charged process for everyone involved and that is why I am very nervous for the Mediation but hopeful at the same time that at least concerns for the children can be voiced in the open and examined and there will be some communication even if there's no apparent resolution.  I guess in a way I'm thinking of the Mediation process as the beginning of closure which is a relief for me because I'm getting really impatient with things being dragged out when it's apparent to many what the best interest of these children is.
Summary/Timeframe of Upcoming Events in Jack & Jill's Case:
Mediation Hearing- End of January
Pre-Trial Hearing- Mid- February
And then . . . Who Knows?!
The Best Case Scenario is that we would be able to adopt them sometime in March of next year.  But we have learned that in the world of fostering and adopting NOTHING IS PREDICTABLE and there are always unexpected twists and turns.

Friday, December 5, 2014

His Grace: Unplanned Pregnancy, Adoption, and "The Best Gift Ever"

I saw this video today and was once again touched and amazed at the tremendous amount of LOVE that leads to placing a child for adoption:

"Through a lot of prayer, and sleepless nights a lot of tears I finally came to the decision to place her for adoption."

"I got a glimpse- just a small glimpse- at  how much love God has for me, God has for my little girl, that God has for every single one of us. I never understood love until then."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Keeping Siblings Together In Foster Care

Just in case you didn’t know, November is National Adoption Month.  This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections.”  

Just last month I attended a training on the subject of maintaining sibling connections in foster care and we watched the following video- Brothers and Sisters:  Keeping Siblings in Foster Care Connected:
I was struck by the young woman in this video (see 6:22) who pointed out the correlation between foster children running away after being separated from siblings.  She stated that behavioral problems stem from being separated which I think is very telling. 
Another young woman who was separated from her siblings after entering foster care made the recommendations to child welfare professionals and policy makers in the video that If siblings can’t be kept together in the same home, then at least place them in the same area or school where they can still have contact with one another or ensure that they have frequent visits (at least once a month) with each other or make sure they’re able to call each other or write letters to each other.
The policy and common sense of keeping siblings together leads to the question of:  Why would siblings ever be separated in the first place?  Here’s three reasons why as discussed in the training I attended:
1)      The first obvious reason is limited physical space in a foster or adoptive home to adopt a large sibling group.  Not everybody has the space available to take in three or more children let alone one more child.
2)      Another reason to separate siblings is if they are a danger to each other- specifically in the case of cases of sexual abuse in their home of origin resulting in children “acting out” abuse on each other.  One of the presenters at the training I attended was careful, however, to point out the difference between a child being “sexually reactive” versus being a perpetrator.
3)      I also thought it was interesting that in the past, according to one presenter who works as an adoption specialist matching waiting children with families, that parentification was a reason to separate siblings.  In other words, If one child took on the role of being the parent to other siblings it was figured it was unhealthy and a remedy would be to separate that child from their siblings in order for them to just “be a kid” again.

Everybody needs a sibling connection no matter your age!  I’m a grown woman and I interact with my siblings at least weekly (if not daily) through calls, texts, or e-mails.  The thought of what my life would be like if I had to be separated from my brothers or sisters now or especially if we had been separated while growing up makes me very sad. 
I think it’s important for foster parents, child welfare professionals or anyone wanting to advocate for today’s youth who find themselves in foster care to put yourself in their shoes, as the young woman says at the very end of the video and consider how you would feel if you couldn’t see your brothers or sisters.    

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jack & Jill's Second Permanency Hearing

OF COURSE I had to express my frustrations in this recent post about relatives of foster children coming forward late in a child’s case (as in 90-120 days or longer after the child has adjusted into a stable, loving foster home) to express interest in caring for the child(ren) on either a temporary or permanent basis.  Of course I had to say something because just five days prior to today’s court hearing I got a phone call from Jack and Jill’s caseworker informing me that since things aren’t looking good for their mother, a relative has come forward who is interested in adopting Jack and Jill despite the fact that this relative declined to take them into her home at the beginning of the case nor has she been involved in the children’s lives whatsoever for over a year now and perhaps most significant of all, regardless of the fact that these children have been in our home for 14 months now and that moving them would be extremely disruptive and cause them significant trauma- especially to Jill since ours is the only home she’s ever known. 

THANKS GOODNESS that upon learning this news DCFS’s attorney as well as the children’s Guardian Ad Liteum were both in immediate agreement that such a move would not be in the children’s best interest since this relative failed to meet coming forward within a 120 Day Timeframe and both children are already attached to our family.   Nevertheless, it is up to the judge to make the final decision. 
So when we heard this news about the relative coming out of the woodwork, we figured that the worst case scenario is that we would have to dip into what we’ve been saving up and setting aside over the past five or six years of our private adoption funds to pay for legal fees in order to fight for these children.  The best case scenario is that the judge would be more concerned with Jack and Jill’s welfare than with giving his bio family any more chances than they’ve already been given.  Fortunately, the issue didn’t even come up at today’s hearing which purpose was to determine if DCFS will continue to provide reunification services to Jack and Jill’s mother.
Incidentally, in the same phone call which Jack and Jill’s caseworker told me about the children’s relative coming forward, she also shared another huge development with me pertaining to their case which came as quite a surprise.  However, I will only be writing about that particular development in a couple more months IF it becomes part of our story. 
So what happened at today’s Permanency Hearing?  The judge agreed that DCFS’s Reunification Services to Jack and Jill’s mother would be discontinued and their Permanency Plan has been changed from Reunification to Adoption.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are guaranteed to adopt them, but rather, that the case is now headed in that direction.  Although services to their mother will be discontinued the judge would still like biweekly supervised visits to continue between the children and their mother. 
WHAT’S NEXT is another hearing scheduled next month where DCFS will petition the court to terminate their mother’s parental rights.  Even if the judge agrees with terminating parental rights, Jack and Jill’s mother will have up to 90 days to appeal the decision which would mean yet another hearing.   Or there is the possibility that she could relinquish her parental rights all together and avoid a trial. 
More waiting.