We are very close to S's return to her mother. I believe that is the right conclusion to this case and I support it wholeheartedly. Well, mostly wholeheartedly.
The transition "plan" is fuzzy. She is currently spending a few nights a week with her mother -- her father is still on supervised visitation. That's not the problem -- the parents aren't "together." The problem is that there is no set date planned for the actual final return. It's just "we'll do this for a while and then submit a petition to reunify early next month."
That doesn't work well for a 4 year old.
I've asked for a target date.
I've explained that it really helps S when we can mark big days on the calendar, so she can watch them get closer as we mark off days at bedtime. I've even explained that she does OK when the date changes a little bit, but I really need a date to work with. (As in, we could manage it if we'd told her it would be August 12th and found out on the 8th that it would actually be the 14th. Or the 10th.)
I still don't have a date. I have a vague "before school starts."
This isn't a transition. Not for the child, at least. At this rate, from her perspective, we will go from "you're spending a couple of nights a week at Mommy's" to "this time you don't ever come back" with no notice.
I am beginning to talk about "soon" to her.
Last week, she melted down and told me that Mommy's house is not "safe." She told me a story of seeing a man living there hitting Mommy. I nearly crashed the car, thinking I'd been advocating all this time for her to return to a dangerous living environment.
She is, however, 4. And I know that her sense of elapsed time is not very strong. So, it was hard to tell whether this had happened during a recent visit or some time in the past. Of course, I documented it by sending a description of the conversation off to the caseworker. About a day later, the caseworker called me to let me know she had looked into it -- S had a name for the man, which I'm sure helped -- and the man in question is incarcerated, has been since before S came into care, and will be for years to come. Big sigh of relief. She may be remembering past trauma that happened in that house, but at least we really aren't sending her back into an unsafe place.
Today, she melted down again. She told me that the only things that are ever on Mommy's TV are scary and that she doesn't want to go back there. She wants to stay here.
I don't know how to help her with that. I can't. I held her and rocked her and told her I was sorry. I told her we loved her and we were glad she liked it here, but that Mommy loves her too. I told her it's OK to tell a grown-up something is too scary for her to watch and then to leave the room so she doesn't have to see it.
The reality is that it's been nearly a year -- a quarter of her life. Our house is home to her now. We are the stable, loving family that she thinks of as "hers" and Mommy is someone she sees and plays with on a regular basis.
I think we've successfully taught her that WE will keep her safe and cared for. That OUR boundaries are firm and reliable. But she is struggling -- oh, so much -- to believe any of that is true in the home to which she is returning. And I can't promise that it is. I believe her mother loves her enormously. I believe she will go to the ends of the earth to TRY to care for her. But I am not under any illusion that the structure and routine that we have built that helps S thrive will be continued. I doubt that there will be monitoring of television and radio content to ensure that it is appropriate for little ears and eyes. (This is a parent that has claimed more than once that the child's favorite movie is Coraline. This same child who was too scared to watch all of The Little Mermaid at my house.)
None of that is a reason not to reunify. It just sucks.