What words can I use for what happened in the courthouse yesterday? Arbitrary, happenstance, a fluke, dumb luck maybe? As we waited in one of the alcoves of the lobby, away from the drama that pervades the rest of the courthouse, we were approached by T’s Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and his paralegal. They said that this hearing was all going to be status quo, that the parents had made adequate progress, blah, blah, blah. And three months later we will come together to ascertain once again that we are no further along in this case than we were last summer, then we were last Christmas, then we were on T’s first birthday, then we were in 2007.
Darrow with perfect timing quickly began to bend their ears. He reminded them that T had been with us now for more than two years. He questioned why at this point in the case no one recognized the significant parent-child bond that T had developed with us. Why is it that an assessment had never been ordered to understand the harm that would be caused in severing our relationship with T. Without this kind of determination, how would anyone ever know the type and extent of mental health services he might need through this transition period? As he mulled it over, it was clear that the thought had never occurred to him and certainly no one had ever bothered to ask us.
With that perfect lead, I quickly took the opportunity to launch into our other huge concern—that his parents have no clue about his medical needs. Through all of his medical ups and downs their involvement has been pretty much non-existent. I expressed how central this one issue was to the core of this case and directly related to the cause for placing these children in foster care, yet no one was paying any attention to it. I suggested that the court order stipulate parental involvement as a requirement for regaining custody of the kids.
At the conclusion of our conversation we hoped that as they retired to the secret backroom where the attorneys gather to discuss the case, that they would incorporate this “new” information into the next court order. It should be acceptable to all parties as it does nothing to derail the plan for reunification. Instead the GAL took the information that we presented to him and determined not only was the status quo not an appropriate course of action, he questioned continuing the permanency plan with reunification as the goal. He would not agree to allow the parents more time to complete the requirements in previous court orders and called for a contested hearing—a trial. One further surprise to us was that BCDSS concurred with this action.
Even after experiencing all of the twists and turns of this case over these many months, I think the developments yesterday left us a little stunned. We were both so certain of the outcome, one that meant T was leaving. Now everything had changed. And why—why was everything different? Because we saw the GAL and spoke up when given the opportunity? Because we provided information that was readily available to anyone that is a party to this case? What if we had not been there or not said anything? It was disturbing to think that these cases are subject to such randomness—that parties go to court seemingly unprepared when children’s lives hang in the balance. It’s as if everyone has lost interest in the case. It was a valuable lesson for us—one that I should have already figured out. Our role is to be the advocate—the ones really looking out for this little boy. And since we are not a party to this case, we must work through the GAL, providing him with the material that he needs to make this case.
We have been here before, back in April 2009 when we were faced with another contested hearing. Neither of us sees this as the answer to prayers, only another odd turn in a journey that has gone on way too long. For now it means that the holiday season will not be marred by the agony of having him begin the process of returning to his parents. We can continue to enjoy our little family without having to assume the worst. And as much as I hate to use the “h” word once again, there it is, undeniable—hope.