Friday, May 23, 2014

Court with the New Caseworker

M's case went to court. She was not excused and was required to show up at the courthouse.

Her new caseworker told me the reason for this was that she was not able to get a response from M's GAL, the attorney who represents M in the case. (There are at least 3 attorneys in every case around here. The parents (can each have their own or share one if they are married), DFCS, and the child. I like this system, because it gives the child a voice in the courtroom; the flaw, of course, is that some GALs are better than others.) She had been assigned a GAL at the beginning who had to recuse himself and I had never heard anything about who the new one was. Apparently, in this county, it's the GAL who has to excuse the child.

So, I -- grudgingly --  took her to court. I had arranged for a babysitter so that I could go to court and hear what was going on and the babysitter I had lined up offered to come to the courthouse and stay with M in an out-of-the-way corner.

We met the GAL, who I surprised myself by really, really liking. He said he would excuse her from all future court hearings, but he wanted to meet her in person at least once. He has a 9 month old baby girl of his own. (He showed me a picture; she's adorable, of course.) He asked about how she was doing and if I had any concerns. He confirmed that we are a potential adoptive placement and he was interested in hearing all the background anyone had gathered on the parents.

This was a judicial review hearing -- where the parties involved look over the case plan, make any necessary adjustments and discuss progress in the case. But the parents "consented" at the beginning of the day, which I think means that they agreed to any changes that DFCS was proposing to make. (The only change was a correction to the case plan goals. It had been simply reunification; because of the past history of TPRs, it was supposed to be concurrent planning*, with adoption (by us) as the alternate goal. My assumption is that it was explained to the parents that this was a correction to a mistake, not really a change, so they agreed to it.)

When the parents "consent", they don't have to hold a true in-the-courtroom hearing. They can just have a informal meeting in the judge's chambers. So they did that. What I hate about this is that I never get to go to those. It's always "too crowded" for me to come in, between 3-4 attorneys, the judge herself, the DFCS case manager and the CASA. My agency caseworker did manage to squeeze herself in there, so I at least got a complete update.

The new caseworker didn't say anything during the hearing.

The goal was changed. The progress made was discussed. The GAL came back by to talk to me afterwards (another thing I like about him!) and said that it looks like "this case is going exactly as it should go, which doesn't often happen." Given that he knows we're willing to adopt M, I'm assuming that statement means he sees the case as going through the motions towards TPR while minizing the chances of a successful appeal. The CASA also said -- after the hearing in chambers -- that she doesn't think the judge will "let [M going back to her parents] happen."

Some information has arisen that leads to some doubt as to whether the man claiming to be M's father truly is her father and he has not yet completed the paternity testing. That testing has now been court ordered. (It wasn't before because he seemed willing to do it without being ordered.)

So, feeling more optimistic that we will get where we need to be eventually. Feeling more like "where we need to be" is not M returning to her biological family, as much as it pains my reunification-loving heart to say it. A long conversation with the CASA who was on the case of M's older siblings has given me the impression that this young woman is simply not capable of parenting appropriately. She has no ongoing contact with the older children because the adoption agreements require that she stay clean and she has not been able to do that; she's been on various drugs for so long that there is a distinct possibility that her cognitive functioning is permanently impaired to the extent that, even if she got clean, she might not have the mental capability to raise a child. (Specifically, her concept of cause and effect does not seem to be developed.) It will be interesting to see what the new caseworker thinks about the case the next time I meet with her, now that she's learned more of the details. (I'm trying to believe that her resistance to the idea of a relatively fast TPR track was the result of not yet knowing the case well.)

*Concurrent planning means there are two goals, a primary and an alternate. The primary goal is usually reunification; the alternate goal is sort of like a back-up plan. When concurrent planning is the goal on the case plan, DFCS is supposed to be preparing for both goals at the same time and is usually used when they think it is likely (or at least highly possible) that reunification will fail. So, concurrent means that all the paperwork to file for TPR and make M available for adoption should be in the process of being prepared, so that it's all ready to be filed if necessary; if we were not an adoptive option, concurrent planning would also mean that DFCS should be searching for one and moving her to one when it is identified. The idea is to minimize the time lag between the court deciding reunification isn't going to work and the child gaining a permanent home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Preemie Development

I've never parented a premature baby before.

I knew -- intellectually -- that preemie development is assessed based on how old they "should" be, rather than how old they are. So, even though it's been a little over 3 months since M was born, her "adjusted" (or "gestational") age is 1 month because she was 9 weeks early.

So, I knew that she would probably roll over, crawl, babble, walk, talk and so on about 2 months later than is typical.

Notice how those are big milestones for later?

I used to tell people that the first 6-8 weeks are the hardest part with a new baby. Once they hit 8 weeks, in my experience, things sort of fall into place. They develop a little more of a personality, they fall into a more predictable schedule, their needs are more clearly established. Guess what else is taking a little longer for preemie M?

Truth be told, she is doing terrifically well from a developmental perspective. (So much so, that I sometimes wonder about the accuracy of her supposed due date.) She's holding her head up well, she pushes her shoulders off the ground during tummy time, she occasionally bats at toys hanging in front of her. We usually get at least one 6-hour stretch between feedings at night; when she does wake up in the night, it's usually eat and go back to sleep in 30 minutes or less. She's outgrown the "newborn" size clothing and is fitting into the 0-3 month sizes well.

But she is still mostly just eating and sleeping. She'll have two or three stretches during the day where she stays awake for an hour or two. She reacts to loud noises, but doesn't seem to turn towards a voice or respond to a face much. That's all OK, because she's still just (developmentally) 1 month old. As I think about it, I guess that I would say her gross motor skills are probably on track for her chronological age, but her social development is still at her adjusted age. Interesting that it can work that way.

It's funny being out places with her. People will ask, "Oh, how old is your baby?" and I say "3 months." If they look puzzled or startled, I will explain that she was 9 weeks early. I had my first experience of someone asking if she was breastfed yesterday. (I said "No, she's on special high-calorie formula.") It's hard not to justify myself, because I was obsessive about nursing my own biological children, but I remind myself that it's really not the business of this total stranger in line at the dry cleaners.

I'm hoping that we will soon be past the magic 6-8 week mark when I start to feel a little bit more like I know what I'm doing and less like I'm stumbling from one feeding to the next.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Caseworker Meeting

After 3-plus years as a foster parent, I like to think my expectations for caseworkers are reasonably low.

Our new one is already disappointing me.

We had a meeting scheduled with her (and our agency caseworker) for 3 pm. Mr. D came home early from work, but had to leave again at 4:30 pm. This meeting was scheduled by the agency caseworker ("Anna") -- I did not even have the new caseworker's contact information at this point, although the Anna had given her mine.

Seconds after she walked in the door (a few minutes after 3pm), Anna got a call from the new caseworker ("Meg"). Meg was so sorry, but she was going to be late. She got stuck in a meeting, was just now leaving the office (which is about 30-45 minutes from my house). Anna had to leave by 4pm, told her that and said she hoped Meg would be there soon enough for them to at least meet.

Had a nice, hour-plus visit with Anna, who we already know quite well. After delaying her departure as long as possible, Anna finally completed her part of the home visit and left. No Meg. No follow-up call about the fact that she was now over an hour late.

4:30. Mr D had to leave. Still no Meg.

She finally showed up about 4:45pm. NEARLY 2 HOURS LATE. She did apologize, but the apology included the statement "I'm often late, but not usually this late." And the kicker to the tardiness? She then told me that she was working in her office and someone came by to ask her if she was going to use the rental car out front and she realized it was 3pm, the time she was supposed to be at my house. There WAS NO MEETING. She just lost track of time. Which, fine, it happens. But, then she lied to Anna about why she was late. Followed by telling me a different story? Ugh.

She had not yet met with the parents and did not know how things were going on their case plan. She "hopes" to meet them before court. Given that she's "often late" and feels OK about lying about why, I will not be at all shocked if she doesn't meet them before court. I'm hoping old CW is still going to be there.

When I tried to ask about the TPR plan and timeline that Old CW had talked about, she looked at me like I was insane. At one point she said, "Well, that may be what Old CW thinks, but we don't really do it that way." Oh. So, the supposed supervisor who handed you this case is just flat out wrong about how it's going to go? What kind of nasty politics are going on in that office?

I got a lot of responses that sounded like her rote replies to parents desperate to adopt. She told me to "just wait it out" and "give them time to hang themselves." Ugh, again.

The "staffing" was the transition from Old CW to Meg, but apparently none of this quick TPR plan was communicated. (Or if it was, it's being ignored.)

She also appeared not to understand why I didn't think M should be in the courtroom or know anything about the error in the case plan goal. (In fact, she thought the reunification case plan goal was correct, but said we could "talk about that at court.")

We'll see, but I am not optimistic that this woman is actually going to pay any attention to what anyone else thinks.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Another Song

This morning in church, we sang the hymn "Because He Lives." I know the chorus by heart:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

But the second verse was a lightening bolt:

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives

I said that I don't know what I want to happen in this case.  That "it's too early to tell."

But singing those lines this morning....?

Right now, as the case stands at this moment, I would not "face tomorrow" with "calm assurance" if M were to be ordered home at court later this month.

And as much as I would like to believe that's not possible, I'm far too aware that this is a broken system that does not always function in the best interests of the child. (Right, Cherub Mama?)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Must Laugh About This

I have to laugh because otherwise I will cry and rage and scream.

M's caseworker is changing. Already.

The good news (I guess?) is that the old one isn't leaving DFCS; she's just not going to be our case worker anymore because she's actually a supervisor and isn't supposed to be working cases at this level. So, in theory, she will still be available to the new case worker for questions on the case.

My meeting with the (old) caseworker for next week is cancelled and the new one is out of the office until early next week, so we don't have a rescheduled one yet.

The case plans that were given to the parents last week state that the goal is reunification. (I think that's why M's mother thinks she's coming home soon.) The (old) caseworker says this is an error that will be corrected at court later this month; the case plan should be concurrent planning. I'm told the (old) caseworker and the (new) caseworker will both be at that court hearing, so there shouldn't be any "I don't know, I just got this case" delays.

M has to be officially "excused" from attending court every time it happens. This involves the caseworker submitting a request to have her excused (on the grounds that she is too young and medically fragile to be in that environment) and waiting for approval. The (old) caseworker hasn't done that yet. No idea if the new one will be on the ball enough to get it done, so that I don't have to take the baby to court. My plan is to assume that she's excused unless I get told explicitly otherwise. I have reasonable grounds for such an assumption -- she's been excused from every other court hearing so far. (And, if I get told explicitly otherwise, my plan is to protest. There's an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in our community; I'm not exposing M to any germs that that I can avoid.)

The "staffing" is still scheduled for early May, but no one seems to know now what they are going to be planning to do in this case. BioMom is working her case plan some, which should be encouraging, but is also, sadly, what she did on her two prior TPR cases -- she worked it some at the beginning, then slowly stopped altogether. She claims this one is different because BioDad is holding her accountable, which would be a good sign if he hadn't also been involved in her life at the time of the two prior TPRs....perhaps he only holds her accountable to get her child back if it's also his child?