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.