I can’t tell you how worked up I got about the hearing on Monday. I felt like I was panting on the inside from being in overdrive all morning. I was glad that Darrow drove to the courthouse. I imagine that I experienced a little of what it means to be manic—energy with no place to go, agitation without relief, mind beginning to climb the walls because there is no tree nearby. As we sat in one of the small quiet lobbies away from the drama that happens in the main waiting room, we both busied ourselves with something to read. I could only manage to read bits and pieces of an auto magazine—mostly I looked at the pictures.
After a brief meeting with our attorney we continued our wait until a group that included the BCDSS attorney, our foster son’s case worker and another worker approached. We were unexpectedly greeted warmly by the attorney, a kindly woman, who took my hand and addressed both of us as if we were part of her family. She had asked to meet us and with our attorney at our side, she reassured us that BCDSS would not oppose our motion to become parties in the case. This was huge. T’s case worker also treated us very differently. She spoke to us in a kind and friendly manner that I had never seen before. There was none of the typically awkward or strained conversation. Over the last few weeks I had spoken to her on the phone briefly a few times and thought I sensed something different in her voice but didn’t trust it. Things were going to be different, in fact they already were.
We were not successful in our Motion to Intervene. After our attorney presented her argument, the Master was very careful in her ruling. She recognized that the attorneys for BCDSS and the children were not opposing the action. She did not agree with the arguments offered up against the action by both parents’ attorneys. As she ruled against the motion, it was clear that to a great extent, we did not succeed because of some missteps made by our attorney in her argument including an inability to demonstrate that we had an interest to protect through the motion. It was a disappointment.
As the hearing progressed it was clear that the room had divided—the parents and their attorneys on one side and on the other side, everyone else. There were two conferences, one in chambers with the Master that just seemed to annoy her, then the other, held in a conference room after the judge told the attorneys to get it together and come up with a plan. In the end, the hearing in structure, was like every other—backroom bartering to produce a document that the Master signs off on. Before the hearing resumed, the BCDSS attorney spoke to the case worker who was sitting next to us. She said in a voice loud enough for all of us to hear, that harsh words were exchanged, that there was some reprimanding going on and that she felt good about being able to express herself. However nuanced her words, it was clear to us that behind the scenes things were different also.
When the hearing continued, we discovered that a new service agreement had been signed by the parties. Unlike other service agreements or plans, this would be incorporated into the court record, and was therefore read aloud in court by the BCDSS attorney. Now that we were at this late juncture in the case, BCDSS had determined that there was a whole laundry list of things including items to be completed this week, that were going to be required before reunification could be achieved. In total the list of fifteen things included one particular clause that basically required the parents to comply with any referrals made by BCDSS. Though the mother’s attorney attempted to limit its scope, the Master was quick to clarify that the language was broad and encompassing any number of things.
We recognized right away that the laundry list was not what it seemed. This was their “To Do” list. While BCDSS would continue to make reasonable efforts, providing resources and referrals, it was all going to rest upon the parents’ shoulders. And they had 90 days. If at the time of the next hearing significant progress had not been made in completing the terms of this agreement there could be serious consequences. The Master in addressing this was not harsh and did not hit them over the head but still, she made the consequences very real.
In a day full of nuanced motions and counter motions and discussion, one thing was clear—this plan was carefully designed. Having seen nothing accomplished in over a year, BCDSS led by the attorney had drawn up the terms. The requirements were easily achievable to a motivated person who wants nothing more than to rejoin their child in their own home. The things being asked of the parents, are the things that any rational, logical person would ask of two people wanting to regain custody of their children under the circumstances of this case. But for T’s parents, the requirements are ominous, not because they are difficult to achieve in such a short time, but because they test the true motivations of these two individuals. Ominous in that the requirements are meant to draw the case to a close one way or another.
I can’t speak to the intent of those who crafted the service plan, but can only infer based upon what I know of the case: since nothing has been accomplished over the last twelve months, I don’t expect the designers of the plan anticipate that anything of significance will be achieved within 90 days. With the right motivation and desire, it is reasonable to believe that anyone could be successful with this plan. Given the history though of this case, I believe that the plan itself may be doomed to failure and possibly by design.