I've been trying to write about this week since Wednesday, but nothing I can say about it is coherent enough to post. Court, BioMoms, Victim Impact Statement, Custody petitions, Article 10 case, Article 6 case, Children's Motrin, Plea agreement - That's what I've written about.
I went to a criminal court proceeding for the first time on Wednesday. Most of the time the neglect/abuse allegations that caused kids to be placed in Foster Care are handled solely in Family court. Sometimes the act is so severe, that not just CPS, but the police get involved and press charges in Criminal court as well. I went to what was supposed to be the sentencing of a parent who did something so terrible that the law allows the judge to sentence 5-15 years as punishment. On top of that, there were 5 other charges that had nothing to do with hurting a child, but each of those held a possible 2-10yr sentence. "Justice" was served and this person admitted guilt to all 6 accusations and was given 8 years in jail for their actions. I was sick. The police investigator was mad. CPS was shocked they got any time at all (since most severe abuse cases only get probation). The perpetrator was completely unreadable- flat affect, no emotion. I hope and pray I never have to sit through something like that again, except I will have to- next week.
The sentencing did not become final last week because no one had been given the opportunity to write a Victim Impact Statement to the judge. Basically, that's a letter to the court explaining how the crime in question has effected the life of the victim after the initial trauma. In this particular case, I am the one who would be writing this letter. The assistant district attorney told me about it like 5 minutes before we walked into court, so I wasn't ready this week. They want to have it on file, though, because it effects future requests for early prison release and parole. So next week I will bring this letter to court and read it to the judge in front of the person who has plead guilty to an act that requires a particular kind of evil that is thankfully very rare. The thought of that gives me hives. These are the things you don't think about when you sign up for Foster Care. You think you are going to be soothing crying babies and dealing with a 6 yr old's temper tantrums- you never think you'll be facing the person who hurt a child and literally being that child's voice to a judge. It's an overwhelming responsibility.
While I was at criminal court, one of my kids had a visit. I keep a notebook in both my kids' visit bags and I write a little update every visit so the parents stay informed about what the child is up to, when appts are, etc. I get home from court, open the notebook, and read, "We have a problem". Oh good, because exactly what I need right now is a problem. The rest of the note explains that I need to have the child always travel with gas drops, Children's Motrin, and baby wipes. The child needed all these things at the (one hour) visit and I didn't provide them. The note said, "I know the state pays you to take care of ---- so you can buy these things". Yes, I can buy these things. As a matter of fact, I have all of these things in my home right now. I am not, however, sending medicine to a visit with a healthy child so you can dose him up without me knowing what he's taken. I called the caseworker, who is going to take care of responding to that note for me, and she agrees that no medicine should travel with the child to the visits unless necessary. Then I looked in the bag, because I always send wipes, and sure enough, there was a full travel case of wipes in the bag
Next on my agenda for the week of horror was to find out from Baby 5's caseworker what she expected from our family court appearance on Thursday. The way I heard it last time we were in court, Jan 26th was the day the judge planned to order Baby 5 home to his Dad. Since then, though, I had heard some concern about this from the law guardian. Also, the county never moved from day visits to overnight visits, even though that's usually what happens when a child is being sent home. The 3 kids we've had leave were having 3 day, 2 night visits with their parent before they were sent home. Baby 5 has never slept anywhere but here. He's only seen his Dad 8 times in his whole life- which is not Dad's fault, it's the county's. Dad came to every visit that was scheduled. Anyway, I called the caseworker and she said that she thought there would be an adjournment on Thursday and that we would go back to court one more time before Baby 5 would be moved. I said, "Should I have him packed?". She said No.
We went to court and there were 2 things to be settled- the CPS case and custody case. As expected, the custody hearing was adjourned until March. What was unexpected is the Judge said that Dad is the preferred placement over any other (us), and Baby should be placed with him, "Immediately" under the CPS case. "Immediately"- had I brought 5 to court that day, I would have literally handed him to Dad right there.
I heard it and started the internal mantra, Don't puke in court. Don't puke in court. I was just holding myself together when the county lawyer says to the judge, "Foster Mother is in the court right now." Ugh! really?! The judge asked me to stand and state my name for the record, which I did. She thanked me for my service and asked me if I was prepared to transition baby today.
My head was spinning- He's not packed, 4 is at school, Brandon's at work, you ordered him home immediately? They won't get to say goodbye! I managed a head nod and "Yes", although it must have looked pained because Dad spoke up as I opened my mouth.
He said, "I don't want to just rip him away from her. We can wait a few days." There was some banter that I didn't quite listen to because I was figuring out if it was OK for me to sit back down or keep standing in case the judge speaks to me again. In the end it was decided 1) that I could sit down 2) that Baby would be physically returned to Dad on Saturday. I owe Dad for those 2 extra days.
As we left the courtroom, I smiled and said to Dad, "That was great. I'm so happy for you!". I really am happy for him, but sad for us. Then Mom came out. She was hysterical. She wanted Baby 5 to stay with us because that meant she had the chance to get him back. She yelled at the caseworker and collapsed in my arms. She sobbed while I held her and said the most comforting and helpful words I could think of. She apologized for not being able to keep 5 with us. I told her not to be sad for us. We are happy for the time we've had with 5. She walked me to my car and told me she wants us to get another baby. I think the exact phrasing was "Put in an order for a new baby". As ridiculous as the entire day was, it's oddly comforting to know that the woman who's baby was taken from her and placed with me thinks we're good enough to take care of him. I don't know that I'd ever be OK with another woman raising my baby.
So I went home and let everybody know what was going on. It was all very business-like. I called my homefinder. We talked about being open for new placements. I got the baby's laundry together. I used up all the WIC checks we had for this month so he would have formula until his Dad could get WIC transferred to his name. I refilled all Baby's prescriptions so Dad wouldn't have to worry about that until next month. I didn't cry once even though I knew this was a sad thing.
Then last night Baby 5 started fussing. He's had a runny nose for a while that never quite turned into a cold, but is still really annoying. He screams when we clean his nose, but a quick funny face and some peek a boo quickly remedies that. His other current favorite thing is the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka- well, kind of. I don't know most of the words, so Baby 5 is accustomed to my unique rendition. When I got him to stop crying so quickly after blowing his nose, I lost it. I asked a huge favor from my 6 month old. I begged him to be happy at his new house. I held him and asked him to let them calm him down when he's upset. I asked him to be OK with whatever they do to get him to sleep. Please laugh when they play with you, and snuggle when they hold you. Please don't miss the way we do things here.
That's a tall order for a baby. I hate that he has to do any of that.
Baby 5 has been our shortest placement so far- 5 months and 1 week. I love him so much it hurts. I am going to be crushed today when we take him to the county line, put his stuff in his Dad's car and watch them drive away. This is not the kind of set up where there is any hope we'll stay in contact after he leaves. Dad has been very nice to us, but that's just not going to happen, and they live so far away that it's not like we'll bump into them at the grocery store or anything. Today is the last time I will ever hold my baby, and it's awful.
It's been a terrible week.