Sunday, June 27, 2010

Team Meeting/Choosing Sides

(Stuff I didn't get around to mentioning in my last post)

A Team Meeting was called last week to discuss concerns about the "incident" and what could possibly happen in terms of Christian's long-term placement as a result of the Permanency Hearing.

A Team Meeting is a meeting where anyone involved in the case including caseworkers, birthparents, foster parents, the Guardian Ad Liteum and whomever else is asked, meets together to discuss concerns about the foster child or the case. Although I can't share what was discussed in the Team Meeting because of confidentiality issues, I would like to share some observations of Christian's caseworker and Christian's parents during and after the meeting.

Christian's Caseworker:

I've really enjoyed working with Christian's caseworker because first and foremost, she returns my calls!  She also visits my home once a month, informs me when there's going to be a Team Meeting, and she sends me copies of court reports or any changes to the Service Plan.  Technically, those are all things that caseworkers "should" be doing, but what should be done and what actually gets done are often two entirely diffferent things.

Another reason why I  really like Christian's caseworker is  because although she is sensitive to the feelings of his birthparents, she doesn't let her sympathy for them cloud her judgment of what truly is in Christian's best interest, and since he is the child in foster care it is ultimately his needs that should come foremost.  The reason I mention this is because I used to think that foster care was all about the child- but in reality, it is also about giving parents a second chance and the opportunity to change. 

Another admirable example of Christian's caseworker in regards to interacting with his parents was when Christian's birthmother, visibly full of concern and emotion, asked her a question at the end of the Team Meeting.  Before answering her question, the  caseworker basically restated the concerns that had been expressed to her throughout the meeting and then helped Christian's mom feel validated by assuring her that she knew she loved her boys.   She then went on to sensitively and diplomatically explain that because of recent incidents, there was a concern with placing the boys back into her care and that it wasn't entirely up to her to make that decision.  She explained that she would have to consult with the GAL (who couldn't come to the meeting because she was in court) and even if the the GAL agreed with placing her son back into her care, it was ultimately the judge that would have the final say of what is in the children's best interest.  

A Relative Tangent Regarding Caseworkers . . .

I think one hard thing (among many) about being a caseworker would be that there are so many "sides" involved in each case: first and foremost, the foster child, second, the birthparents, and third, the foster parents.  I've seen firsthand how some caseworkers can "play both sides" and tell the birthparents one thing while turning around and telling the foster parents something entirely different or inaccurate.  It reminds me of a politician running for office and telling people whatever they want to hear just to get a vote.

I've always appreciated caseworkers who were forthcoming and honest from the beginning, even if "the truth" may not be what I want to hear.  I would MUCH prefer to have a caseworker tell me that a child will most likely be going back to his or her parents (which is almost always the case anyway) than to have a caseworker get my hopes up high by telling me that there's a good chance that a child could become available for adoption since there's no way the parents would be able to "get their act together".   [Remember LESSON #7 from this post: If somebody other than a judge tells you that a child is adoptable DON’T BELIEVE THEM!]

Back to the Team Meeting and Speaking of  "Sides" . . .

During the meeting I let Christian's dad hold him but it was a little awkward because Christian kept looking over his dad's shoulder and smiling at me.  Then when he got particularly fussy (nap time) he kept looking in my direction as if to say, "Aren't you going to comfort me?"  and I had to consciously refrain from picking him up.  Instead I reached into the diaper bag and grabbed a binky and popped it in his mouth while his dad continued to hold him.

Since his mom didn't get a lot of time with Christian during the meeting she picked him up afterwards and held him for a couple of minutes before I left.  She reprimanded him every time his chubby little hands would reach up and grab for her hoop earrings:

"NO- We don't touch the earrings!"  she scolded.  It was hard to tell by the sternness in her voice if she was just kidding or if she truly was annoyed by her baby and expected him to understand and obey.   

She suddenly grew more quiet and looked very serious.  She said something barely audible and I figured she was talking to Christian's birthfather.  I looked over at him when he didn't answer and then back to Christian's birthmother to see her response only to realize she was staring directly at me.

"What?" I said, genuinely caught off guard, "Were you talking to me?"     

She had a timid look on her face and repeated what she said, only slightly louder.

"Are we okay with each other?"  She asked me.

I was totally confused.  What did she mean "okay with each other?"

I gave her a quizzical look and asked  "What do you mean?"

Her lips started trembling and she nodded over in the direction of Christian's birthfather.  "He said you were mad at me."

I looked over at Christian's dad, who had started to defend himself:

"No. . .  that's not what I said . . ." he began, but I interrupted him before he could say anything further.

"Why would I be mad at you?" I asked Christian's birthmother, with confusion and concern in my voice.  Had Christian's birthfather twisted what I had told him on the phone the week before (about me feeling more comfortable with him raising Christian versus her)?   Or did he simply tell her exactly what I said and because she was already feeling particularly sensitive, she took it the wrong way?  I immediately second-guessed my decision to share my feelings on the matter with Christian's birthfather.    

I stepped closer to Christian's mother and continued:  "I'm not mad at you!" 

Her face still wore a worried expression and I felt an urgent need to comfort her.  What I did next surprised me because I am NOT a touchy/feely person- especially when the other person smells like cigarette smoke- but I moved in closer to her and gave her a side hug.  In the process of moving closer I realized I was close enough to see what the cursive writing on her sweatshirt spelled out, directly beneath  the picture of Eeyore: MOODY. 

"An ironic understatement," I thought to myself.

I continued to reassure her, but I was afraid I may have just been babbling: "I'm not mad at you" I repeated.  "I was concerned the day that you didn't have any formula for Christian so I told the caseworker, but I know that you must be feeling totally overwhelmed by everything that's going on right now . . .   We're all here because we want what's best for Christian."  I gave her a couple of shoulder pats.

Her face seemed to relax and I felt relieved.

Christian's birthfather didn't say anything but just continued to watch us all.  Christian's birthmother held Christian a little bit longer and asked the caseworker a couple of questions about court while I just stood there fidgeting with my car keys and was actually a little relieved when Christian's birthfather handed me the car seat and said, "You probably have to go- Thanks for coming."  The meeting had ended over five minutes ago.   
I got Christian settled in his car seat and made sure I had everything in the diaper bag.  As I started to leave the room Christian's mother looked up at me and smiled.  I smiled back.  

I really don't want to see her cry again.  There's so much pain in her eyes. 

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