I didn’t realize at the time what a turning point this court hearing was. It went from ‘gosh I’m having some post-partum depression and need a little help.’ To ‘you’re taking my children away.’
It became a system of judgements. Everyone was a party to it. Even me. The Department of Human Services had to determine the goals of reunification. Which included drug/alcohol assessments for both parents and following through on any recommendations made. Social workers set up a visitation plan for the parents. Both parents were required to obtain jobs and adequate housing. As foster parents, we were required of course to provide care for the children including medical care. Maggie was getting molars and got an ear infection. She also had some issues with her vision that initially required glasses on a toddler. Hunter was a C-Section delivery and had fluid in his lungs. He had ongoing respiratory issues that required nebulizer treatments every 4 hours. But we were also asked to report any issues with visitation. Were the parents on time or late or did they cancel or change any visits? How were the children upon return from visits? Had they been fed and changed?
The parents began comparing themselves to my husband and I. There were power struggles surrounding visits with the children on holidays and the daily phone calls. Sometimes, we weren’t home when they called for an update. And they thought we just weren’t answering the phone. It didn’t help that the social workers were frequently changing visit times, coming late to pick up the children or had scheduling conflicts. The situation became like a boiling cauldron. I came to believe that these parents didn’t care enough about their children to make the necessary life changes to meet the requirements of the court. Hilary came to believe that I wanted to keep her children. Judgements. Everywhere.
Then there were the other realities. I work full-time as a counselor and my husband is a cattle farmer. Then of course we had three teenagers with active lives, part time jobs, sports involvements, and friends. They still needed parents too. I kept hearing my husband’s words in my head… “I hope you know what we’re doing.” That’s when I called the social worker and asked for a conference with the birth parents. We needed to air frustrations, concerns and develop a more workable plan for everyone.
Then about 1:00 that afternoon I got a call from a social worker. Hilary had just left her office. She wanted to put Hunter up for adoption. The social worker, without even asking us yet, had scheduled a meeting for my husband and I that afternoon at 2:30 with the Adoption Worker. She wanted us to adopt Hunter. We had 15 minutes to decide. I called my husband. Overwhelmed, I tried to explain what had happened. Even though we weren’t licensed as Adoptive Parents, they still wanted us to move ahead with adopting Hunter. We agreed to meet with the worker.
Information came at us faster than we could gather it in. We had been registered for licensing classes. They had scheduled an adoption interview and home study with us for later that week. A new roller coaster ride began. The next morning another call came. Hilary and Steve had reunited and did not want to consider adoption.
That’s when I first heard the term ‘concurrent planning’. The Department of Human Services had to make at least two plans of action for these children. One for reunification of the family. The other plan in case the parents could not meet the court requirements for reunification. Plan A and Plan B. Then of course.. Plan C appeared.
Maggie’s paternal grandparents appeared at the next court hearing and wanted to adopt her. They had paid for a private agency to do a home study. They petitioned the court to begin visitation with Maggie. This was their only grandchild. She and Hunter are half siblings. The judge ordered that they could begin visitations with Maggie every other weekend.
It seemed that social workers were coming and going all the time. So were the children. It was difficult to maintain any semblance of family life as we’d known it. Much less providing something stable for Maggie and Hunter. But what I did learn was that there are a whole bunch of people who love these children. They are loved. That’s the most important thing.