It was January 2008, just a few months after T had been placed with us that she came on the scene. With a blend of immature confidence, a newly minted twenty-something case worker for BCDSS entered our home and our lives.
Without any previous experience in social services, Miss S, our foster son’s new case worker learned on-the-job, relying on counsel from supervisors and the ever shifting internal procedures of the agency. As new foster parents we learned through research, relying on laws, regulations and the websites of States who did foster care much better than Baltimore City. We kept her on her toes and up-ended her with our aggressiveness. She hit back, sometimes with the force of her supervisors. We had our battles especially in the beginning but eventually we made our peace. Over the course of eighteen months the three of us figured out the foster care system together.
I still remember one of her earliest visits—she came by the house in a little, red, ill-fitting mini. She should have known better than visiting the home of two gay dads, and not expect a little catty-ness. Her visit coincided with some fallout between us regarding scheduling the visits during our foster son’s nap-time at his day care. I’m sure that at first we were just the crazy-ass foster parents that she and other case workers often see. I think it was at that time that she called me a tyrant. In the end she could not deny how well our foster son was cared for, but that didn’t absolve us completely.
In the beginning, we were concerned that she would be overwhelmed by the gravity of the case which involved a host of social ills and three very young children. We feared the mini-wearing college punk was too new, too green and way too young to understand the matters of human nature that would ultimately shape this case. What we found is that she did things by the book—documenting every detail of the case. It took me a while to realize that in some ways she was exactly what this case needed. What she lacked in knowledge and experience—she was able to compensate with her responsiveness and attention to detail. I think as we ventured into court each time, if anyone had asked her to produce evidence, she surely would have had it all right there.
There were times when I wanted her to be more. It was enough to be new dads and new foster parents, but as our son’s case developed and matured, it was clear that she could not help us navigate the court system. We leaned on the guardian ad litem and hired a lawyer but in the end what we really needed was a guide—someone who knew how to weave the law, the particulars of the case and all of the players in the courtroom together. No one could do that for us—no one ever had the answers to our questions, not then and certainly not now.
As the shock of the hearing had begun to wear off and the realities of what we might again have to face, the monthly visit of our son’s case worker was upon us. All week I tried not to entertain the thought because it would just tie me up in unnecessary knots. While Miss S. could not be relied upon to interpret court proceedings, she would be able to tell us what actually happened with housing and other efforts made by T’s biological parents. I didn’t want to hear that it was all over, that they had found housing, that they were complying after all this time. It gave me no confidence that they were any more competent or motivated to take care of their three children now, then they ever had been.
So there we sat with the court order in our hands trying to understand how it had suddenly swung back in favor of the biological parents and at the same time was full of contradictions. It talked about reuniting the family but cautioned that the circumstances under which the children had been removed had not been resolved. The court extended the permanency plan another six months but gave clear warning that if significant progress were not made, that the plan could change, that the termination of parental rights could be sought…at any time.
As we sat around our dining room table, we asked Miss S. about the claims that they had found suitable housing. She shrugged and said if they had she hadn’t seen it. Per the court order, BCDSS would have had to pre-approve any housing that they located and complete the paperwork for financial assistance. None of that had happened, and as Miss S. was careful to point out, nor had anything else that needed to be done. She tried to encourage us—that although anything could happen at this point, there were no transition plans, nor any plans to begin unsupervised visits. She told us not to give up.
Then she dropped the bomb-shell. She was moving to a new unit within Social Services and would be transferring the case to a new worker. After a year and a half the person who knew this case best, was deserting it. She understood the motivations, the capacity, and the capabilities of the parents to care for their children. After spending nearly every week with the little urchin, her attachment to him had grown over time and I suspect if she had the latitude to say would have been happy to see him remain with us. All of that was lost.
Now, we were suddenly left without one of the few assets in the case. We felt more uncertain about the future and if it were possible we felt more adrift than at any other time in the last two years. And so, at 7:25 pm on Thursday night, Miss S. gave our son a hug and a kiss and then stepped back out of his life…..and ours.