Wednesday, November 9, 2016

thoughts from a court room

My Genius Sister, in Iowa, wasn't the only one in court today.

I went to court with a B.A.C.A. child here in Texas.

Five B.A.C.A. members (well...technically I'm only a "supporter" as I haven't been able to attend enough events to get my patch) went to be with a little girl so that she wouldn't have to be alone when she testified against her abuser.

We started out the morning in the DA's office. The little girl, Dizzy, had some family support. Her mother was there along with four paternal aunts. We were placed in a conference room. It wasn't exactly kid friendly. I had stuck a couple games in my giant purse though. That helped pass the time.

We had to wait all morning long because we didn't know when Dizzy might get called to testify. Just after noon we were told that the court was breaking for lunch. Everyone left. We had one hour to get some food and convene back in the conference room. We all went out to eat at a pizza buffet, came back, and waited some more.

Just before 2:00pm - after waiting since 8:30am - Dizzy was finally called for her testimony. We were escorted across the street from the DA's office to the criminal courthouse. We passed through security and blocked Dizzy all the way there. Once up to the actual courtroom, we literally formed a wall of bodies around Dizzy. You see, many members of the maternal side of Dizzy's family don't believe that she was assaulted. They, in turn, were in the hallway to support the man that hurt Dizzy. We shielded them from having any contact with Dizzy or even being able to see her.

I then watched a very brave 8 year old little girl speak her truth in a court of law. She had to say, out loud, all the horrible things that were done to her by her relative. I kept a straight face. Our role in the courtroom is to give the child(ren) someone familiar to look at. After all, they're alone. Their family has almost always been subpoenaed to testify so they can't be in the courtroom when the child is testifying. They have to face the DA that they know plus the defense attorney and the defendant.

And don't give that defense attorney any slack. They are there for their client only. The defense attorney today did his best to try and scare Dizzy and to try and confuse her. It was maddening!

Here's one of my take-aways from it all...
Please, please, please teach your kids about sex on an age appropriate level. Teach them the right names for all their body parts. Do this from birth. Girls have vaginas. Boys have penises. Teach them to not be ashamed of their bodies or the names of their body parts. When you get a new foster placement, assess how much they really know about this subject and start teaching right away. So many foster kids have been sexually abused. They were taken from their homes for other reasons though. This is a big deal and we have to teach kids the right ways to talk about their bodies.
Dizzy did great today. She was strong. She was brave. But the best she could muster was that her private parts are her chest, her middle part, and her back part. That was all she could say. And she was scared to death to say any of that. Believe me, the defense took advantage of her fear.

I'm not saying that using the right words would have changed any of this. The court experience is traumatic and any kid would be scared to have to tell a room of strangers when they've been abused. But it might have helped.

Say a prayer for Dizzy. It's 6:00pm and we don't know if Dizzy is going to have to testify again tomorrow or not. If she does, B.A.C.A. will be with her through it all. But Dizzy and her big brother, Sorcerer, need this case to be done. They need the relative that hurt Dizzy to be punished under the full extend of the law. Their family needs support and healing.

It's been a long day. The criminal justice system sucks.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sparkler has court this week

Cast of Characters:

My Genius Sister = MGS...really my sister...really a genius...totally radical
Sparkler = a really awesome 7yo little girl who has endured a lot of trauma in her young life
JW = Sparkler's mom
Cardinal = Sparkler's paternal grandmother
Roonie = My Genius Sister's middle son

A couple years ago, when Roonie was in kindergarten, it came to MGS's attention that Sparkler, also in kindergarten, was having some issues. Some kids in Sparkler's class were telling Sparkler that she couldn't play with them anymore. They said that Sparkler's mom was a bad person. It was mean and cruel. MGS saw it as an opportunity to have a play date. Sparkler could come over and play with Roonie. It was a win-win for everyone.

That's when an amazing story of love and friendship started.

JW had been involved in a positively horrific accident. The courts decided that JW needed to pay for her role in the accident and she was sent to prison. MGS didn't know JW yet but, after some play dates, she got to know Sparkler quite well.

MGS didn't want to become Sparkler's mom or anything like that. She just started weaving their families together. MGS helped Sparkler's dad (JW's husband) and Cardinal take care of Sparkler. There was some neglect involved and MGS supported the family. She didn't take over. But Sparkler became a frequent visitor at my sister's house. MGS became friends with Sparkler's dad and Cardinal. She also became a very, very good friend of JW. They messaged regularly and MGS helped Sparkler maintain a relationship with her mother. The children were friends and much healing happened. It was a beautiful thing.

Then, just a few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened. Sparkler's father was murdered. In an instant, Sparkler was left without a legal guardian. JW was in prison and her dad was gone forever. My sister flew to the family's side so she could be there to support everyone. In the moment, everyone (and I do mean everyone) decided that Sparkler needed to move in with my sister and her family immediately. They would deal with the intensity of what just happened and then evaluate what needed to happen next.

JW was informed of what happened. Knowing the full situation well, she decided immediately that MGS needed to be given official (legal) custody of Sparkler. Sparkler needs more than what Cardinal is able to provide. But because of JW's current legal status, her wishes weren't made known to everyone involved right away. And when they were, Cardinal got upset and retaliated.

And that brings us to this week.

Sparkler is not a foster child. She is not a ward of the State. In fact, as of right now, the State says there isn't enough proof of abuse and/or neglect to remove Sparkler from Cardinal's care. A judge wasn't as scrupulous as he should have been though when he granted Cardinal's request for custody - completely overriding the rights and wishes of JW. So the whole family is now involved in a custody battle. The hearing is Wednesday.

It's not foster care - but it looks a lot like foster care. There is a bio parent whose rights are being trampled all over. There is a kid caught in the middle. There are multiple lawyers. Sparkler even has a guardian ad litem.

I'm asking for prayers for the entire family. Cardinal has further traumatized Sparkler through all this. MGS and her family have been on a whirlwind of a roller coaster that looks JUST like foster care. And JW needs to have her wishes made known in a court of law. And more than anything, said court of law needs to see ALL of this and rule in the best interests of Sparkler.

If Sparkler stays with Cardinal, it is likely that Sparkler will lose her relationship with her mother. Cardinal has made it clear that maintaining that relationship isn't a priority to her. That alone should be reason enough for Sparkler to be moved to my sister's house. Sparkler deserves to have a relationship with her mother. Sparkler needs to be in a place where she will get to go home to with her mother when JW has paid her debt. There are many other reasons why Sparkler would be best off living with MGS temporarily vs. living with Cardinal. But you'll just have to trust me on those.

Please keep all these people in your thoughts and prayers. Court is on Wednesday. It's going to be stressful for all involved and a little girl's future hangs in the balance. I'm praying that she is offered the safety and stability of my sister's home and the assurance that she will get to see and connect with her mother regularly. I covet your prayers for the same.