Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Riding the roller coaster

I don't even know where to start. (Warning...this will probably be a long one.)

Part of me wants to give only the most vague of details. Technically I am not allowed to write this blog. The details of foster care aren't legally mine to share. (I'd get in huge trouble if my agency or someone at CPS knew I wrote this blog!! I'd probably end up in legal trouble!!)

Part of me wants to give y'all a full script of my afternoon. I feel somewhat obligated to show what foster care REALLY looks like. 'Cause it's nothing like the training. Nothing can prepare you for the roller coaster until you climb aboard yourself.

So...since I want to warn y'all about the giant hill ahead and the resulting ride that might make you lose your's how court went this afternoon:

I had to bring Pumpkin. In the state of Texas all children over the age of four are required by law to attend all of their court hearings. (At least this is how it was explained to me. And from the internet searches I've done, it appears to be true.) In fact, the judge in our area requires ALL children (even infants) to come to court.

Pumpkin did OK and went straight to her mom when we got there. Her mom seemed to handle things OK in the waiting room. Pumpkin didn't get all wound up. She just sat on her mom's lap and drank a soda that her mom bought her.

CASA had called me this morning to get the current details on Pumpkin's case. Pumpkin's actual CASA volunteer has completely dropped the ball and has only visited Pumpkin one time since coming in to care in January. However, the CASA supervisor is required to follow up if the volunteer doesn't. Since we had already spoken on the phone, I didn't have to go over anything in the waiting room with her.

I sat and waited. I tried to not get nervous. But the waiting room is such a cesspool of anxiety. Parents are tense. Some are crying. Children are everywhere. Some are confused. Some are happy. Some are crying. "Suits" are everywhere. And there is NOWHERE private to talk. So if a "suit" needs to talk to a client, a child or a foster parent, they are literally sitting next to someone else or standing in a corner going over the most private of details in the most public of settings.

Pumpkin's GAL (guardian ad litem -- her lawyer) never showed up today. <<sigh>>

The CPS attorney came over to speak with me before court. It went something like this:

LAWYER: So, how is Pumpkin.
ME: Fine. What did you want to know? (I absolutely HATE that generic question. How am I supposed to answer that?!)
LAWYER: (hesitating due to my lack of an answer) are visits?
ME: Fine. What did you want to know? (ugh)
LAWYER: (thinking even harder on how to ask a question that could really generate an answer) does she respond after a visit.
ME: Pumpkin does OK enough. Granted, she does show a lot of regression. But it's hard to quantify.
LAWYER: Does she get aggressive?
ME: No!
LAWYER: Does she get passive-aggressive?
ME: Um...Pumpkin doesn't have the ability to be passive-aggressive. (Despite meeting Pumpkin several different times, I do not think this woman understands how developmentally delayed Pumpkin is!)

I went on to explain that it's more of a depression really. That Pumpkin stops engaging with the family. Certain skills will seem to disappear. She won't play. She withdraws a lot.

LAWYER: Does Pumpkin talk about it? What does she say about her mom?
ME: (taking a deep breath) Pumpkin can't talk.
LAWYER: What?!

I had to explain to this woman AGAIN that Pumpkin is not able to communicate. I explained in detail what she's able to do. How she can make choices when offered two things that she can physically touch. But for the most part, Pumpkin does not express her needs and wants. She might point to something (like the soda machine in the waiting room when she was with her mom). I explained that I think she communicates better with her mom than she does with me. I tried and I tried.

But this lawyer heard only what she wanted to hear.

She thinks Pumpkin has some kind of a dissociative disorder. She explained to me that she's worked with lots of special needs kids. She said that in her experience they all communicate.

I wanted to smack the woman!

Pumpkin has a laundry list of diagnoses. She's been seeing a neurologist for many years now. He gave me a list. She saw a psychiatrist when she first came in to care and he gave me a list.

But now some lawyer that doesn't even know this child has become an expert on all things "special needs" and thinks that Pumpkin needs a new diagnosis. This lawyer that isn't even Pumpkin's lawyer!!

Thankfully, we got called into the courtroom before I did or said something stupid. Pumpkin sat on her mom's lap. I sat in the back.

I'll spare you the play by play here. But this is what has to happen within the next month:

I have to get an "official" diagnosis for Pumpkin. (I guess all the other official ones I have aren't official enough.) No one can tell me exactly what to ask or even what doctor to go to. I have to figure this out for myself.

CPS has a few task items on their list that probably involve continuing to find a relative that will take Pumpkin.

The trial to terminate parental rights will be January 4th at 9:30AM.

And yes, Pumpkin has to attend the trial where they will terminate her mother's rights! (Don't even get me started on this one. My heart breaks for all children that have to do this. It's trauma brought on by the court system. It is so many shades of wrong it makes me sick to my stomach!!)

Pumpkin will be in my home through Christmas for sure. After that, I have no idea what will happen. I'm not sure how the judge is going to choose a new home for Pumpkin. My gut tells me that he's going to factor in her disability a little bit more than they have been thus far through this case.

If they can't find a relative placement for Pumpkin I don't know what will happen. My family is not in a position to adopt Pumpkin. But she is welcome to stay in our home until they can find a safe permanent home for her.


MamaFoster said...

wow. i didn't expect that.

r. said...

(1) Technically the "ad litem" lawyer is the AAL (attorney ad litem) and the CASA is the GAL (guardian ad litem). The idea is that the AAL represents the child's legal interests (what the child wants) and the GAL represents the child's best interests (what's actually best for the child). But not all counties in Texas follow the model of having CASAs as GALs and even in those that do, many don't have enough CASA volunteers to appoint one for a child who is nonverbal. In that case the attorney would usually act in the "dual capacity." So you may be giving away your location a little more than you intent to here, although I'm not sure how many people not involved in the system could figure it out. I'm going to leave this as a separate comment, in case you don't want to display it.

r. said...

The judge can excuse the child from attending and the child's lawyer could request that (assuming the child's lawyer actually showed).

You say Pumpkin is nonverbal--any chance she could be prompted to babble and vocalize nonstop during the next court session? That might get her excused! (Just kidding...)

CherubMamma said...

@r. --
At the risk of "giving away" my location, I'll explain the people that are representing Pumpkin.

Pumpkin has one lawyer serving in dual capacity as the AAL and the GAL. That is the person that did not show up at court yesterday. She didn't even send a different lawyer in her place.

In my area, all the CASA volunteers are just that - volunteers. They aren't lawyers. And you're right, there aren't enough volunteers to go around. But because of Pumpkin's severe delays, she was appointed one when she was placed in my home originally in January. Unfortunately, the supervisor hasn't been able to stay on top of things to make sure that the CASA volunteer is doing their job. Quite honestly, I think they trust me to advocate for Pumpkin. CASA has served in a very minor capacity in Pumpkin's case.

And as for the judge excusing Pumpkin - it will NEVER happen. He just does not excuse children (except for hearings during the state TAKS test and for severe illness). And the lawyers won't ask him to...because he'll say he wants them there. (That's what every CPS worker has told me so far and this judge is over multiple counties.) If the children are making noise of any kind, they have to sit in the waiting room during the entire court proceeding. But...they have to be there. In fact, I've been told that he flies in children that have been placed out of state with relatives for their court hearings. It makes no sense to me but it's how he rolls.

r. said...

I'm sorry if I stated it wrong. As I understand it, all kids have lawyers but not all kids have CASAs. A GAL may be a lawyer, but doesn't have to be. The CASAs are volunteers everywhere, but in some places they're officially the GAL and in some places they're just a "friend of the court." (I'm told this makes a difference in terms of what information they have access to.) In places where CASAs serve as GALs, if there is a lawyer, then the lawyer is the AAL and the CASA is the GAL, and if there isn't a CASA then the lawyer is both the AAL and the GAL (dual capacity). Confusing enough?

You had referred to the lawyer as the GAL but then you mentioned that Pumpkin had a CASA, so the pedantic nitpicky part of me just meant a little comment as an aside to be like, "actually the CASA is the GAL and the lawyer is the AAL." Except it sounds like my pedantic nitpicky part didn't read it closely enough, because it seems like you were the right one all along and maybe those counties that don't have CASAs as GALs just refer to the lawyers as GALs generally and when they want to be technical about it they say that the lawyer is serving in the dual capacity.

I'm sorry I got into all that. It was just meant as an aside. But since I'm not very good at writing short comments, it became very long. And then I got to thinking about your first paragraphs where you wrote about your concerns about anonymity, and that's why I included the part about possibly giving clues to your location. But of course, the aside was not necessary in the first place because if I had read more carefully and thought about it for longer I would have realized I was wrong and kept my mouth shut.

Whew! That was long. I'm sorry Pumpkin has to go through all that though. And the transport has got to be a huge burden on CPS and foster parent resources, not to mention the time the kids miss from school. I get the point of including the kids in the process and making sure they're actually seen in court (so they're not just a number or something), but you're right about it getting to a point where it makes no sense.

Best of luck with everything,

CherubMamma said...

No worries! The names and titles of everyone is horribly confusing. And it's different everywhere. I appreciate the fact that you "get it". I personally get tongue tied sometimes when I try to explain to people all the suits involved in Pumpkin's case.

I wanted to try and maintain an sense of complete anonymity when I originally started this blog. But it's hard to do that when laws and regulations vary so much by location. In order for folks to understand what I'm going through compared to their circumstances, it helps if they know where I'm located (to a degree). I worry sometimes about what to say and what to leave out. Eventually, everyone will figure out my general location anyway. How many places are there in Texas (which is now a known) where the weather is still in the 80s and everyone speaks Spanish?! LOL I guess in the long run, if CPS is going to "find me" online, they're going to be doing it for some reason. Hopefully my behavior and character will not lead them to search out whether or not I'm writing a blog about my experiences as a foster parent.

I don't mind long comments. :) Thanks for reading and clarifying what I might have said in too simple of a manner.

Last Mom said...

Ugh. My daughter was a straight adoptive placement from foster care. TPR had occured long ago, so I didn't have to through any of that. Sounds brutal for everyone involved.

I saw your comment that your my
"Secret Santa" in the trauma mom exchange! Yay!!! Blogger gives me a horrible time at responding to comments or following new blogs. I saw and I'm here, reading about your world, too, though!