There was a permanency plan review hearing last month. It was the first hearing since the 10-month one back in August 2008. Juan and I expected that things would change at this hearing, but we weren’t quite sure how. 15 months had passed since T’s night-time arrival and, despite DSS’s efforts to minimize that milestone, it made little sense that the court and/or T’s advocate would do the same. We hoped for movement in some direction.
Tired of the sense of lethargy, I was hoping that the Master would light a fire under someone’s ass. It didn’t matter who – DSS or the parents or both. I’ve had little faith that T’s parents are seriously motivated or active participants in their own rehabilitation, and I’m pretty underwhelmed (and that’s being kind) by much of what I’ve seen and experienced of DSS. Would the Master be in a similar space?
As usual though, things did not turn out quite as expected…
The hearing was scheduled for a morning that kicked off with ice, snow, freezing rain, school closing and delays. I worried that we’d end up facing a continuance that would push things out another month or two. Thankfully, the court system machinery isn’t totally disabled by a bit of bad weather. Proceedings were delayed by 90 minutes or so.
When we arrived at Family/Juvenile Court, like other families, we took our places in the waiting area. T’s parents were there as well. Back at the August ’08 hearing, I had introduced myself to them and thanked them for allowing us to be part of the proceedings (though I knew that they had no actual say in that matter). This time, I opted not to speak. I’m not sure why. Instinct? Premonition? Fear? Guilt maybe? Who knows, but my instinct told me to stay put.
Juan and I waited while DSS, the guardian ad litem, and the parents’ attorneys hashed things out in their typical pre-hearing backroom discussions/negotiations. I would love to know what these discussions are like. What’s the emotional content? What do they say about us and Ty? What is happening with the parents? By the time all parties get in front of the judge, things seem watered down.
At some point, T’s guardian ad litem emerged from the negotiations. He informed us that a) DSS wanted to give the parents 6 more months and then another review; b) he pushed for and all parties finally agreed to a contested hearing in May; and c) the hearing would now simply be to officially present the decision to the Master.
After about 2 hours of sitting around, the hearing was called and we could finally enter the courtroom. The process is a bit of a cattle-call. Multiple families with various issues occupy the courtroom while the attorneys wait along with them to present their sides to the Master. Unless otherwise requested, you are able to sit through the proceedings for cases not related to your own.
When I walked into the courtroom, I got my first inkling that things had changed. T’s mother, who was sitting on a bench in the very last row, rolled her eyes when she saw me and then leaned over to say something to T’s father. He didn’t bother to look in my direction. I spoke to both but got nothing (verbally) in return. Juan and I took our seats a couple of rows ahead of the parents and waited for the hearing to begin. I could hear T’s father cursing under his breath. All I could make out was…
“…tired of this shit…”
A hearing began to play out in front of us, but the plaintiff’s attorney asked that everyone connected to the case leave courtoom. Juan and I exited, passing T’s mother and her attorney in the hallway. I could see that the mother was pretty worked up. As we passed, I heard a few words of their conversation. T’s mother was having an issue with someone being present in the courtoom. I had to assume that someone was us.
We were finally allowed back and Ty’s family’s hearing began. It kicked off with T’s mother’s attorney making a request. On behalf of her client, she asked that we – Juan and I – be excluded from the proceedings. In other words, she wanted the Master to give us the boot out of the courtroom.
The Master, who seemed more perplexed than either Juan or I, denied the request saying that we had a right to be present. The attorney persisted but the Master held fast. It was unsettling to be singled out like that and definitely emphasized the fact that something had changed, at least in tone. The parents were pissed and we seemed to be the object of their anger.
The hearing lasted all of a few minutes. The contested hearing date was set for May and we all went on our way.
Juan and I are not sure what happened to suddenly be on the receiving end of the parents’ anger. What actually happened in that backroom discussion? What have they been told? Was their anger towards us new as of the hearing or has it been that way for some time and we just haven’t been aware? Why us?
I don’t yet understand what this next hearing – contested hearing – means specifically for the case. The point of contention at the January hearing was the lack of agreement about the permanency plan for T and his sisters. This May hearing would, I guess, resolve that lack of agreement in some way or another, but I don’t understand the possible outcomes. And, no matter what the intentions are in May, this matters not one bit if the parents finish what’s on their to-do list before then.
So we are working on understanding this next part of the process, including our role in it. We have no doubt that things will get quite complicated if this contested hearing happens.