If the trial to terminate parental rights of our girls’ birth parents was presented as a fictional novel, it would not be believable enough to be a good story. A savvy reader would never buy into it. There’s no way the foster and judicial systems actually work this way.
Let me explain- in New York, parental rights can legally be terminated by a judge after sufficient evidence is presented (ie- a trial) to substantiate that neglect or failure to follow a personalized plan for reunification (plan may include things such as attend a drug rehab program, graduate from a parenting class, take prescribed medications and make medical appointments, consistently attend visits with children, etc.) for 15 months in care during a 22 month span of time. (Here’s a bit more about termination of parental rights (TPRs).) The rights of birth parents must be terminated before a child can be adopted from the foster system, even if that child’s ‘goal’ is adoption. So, legally speaking, Alex and I are seen solely as foster parents by the agency and courts, even though our intent and the girls’ goal (since placement with us) has always been adoption.
Did you catch that timeframe? 15 months in care. Lulu has been in care since age 1.5, so roughly 62 months. Flavia was born into care, so it’s been 56 months for her. You can take a moment to reread that if you need. It makes my blood boil.
And before you think that this is the proper time to bash birth parents of children in foster care, let me stop you at the door. There is deep, systemic and generational brokenness, compounded by choices made by broken people, that have gotten us to where we are now. We love our girls' birth parents. Do I want to pull them by their hair sometimes? Yes. Actually, too often for me to feel comfortable admitting. It is easy to vilify birth parents in these cases. But birth parents in the foster system are complexly human, with an entire life's-worth of history, and deserve the dignity of being seen in that light. As I told Alex yesterday, I simultaneously want to kick birth mom and pull her into a big hug.
I’ve been toying with the idea of blogging about our experience in the NYC foster system for awhile now. I’d love to give an honest look at how the system actually operates, but also encourage those who are considering adoption and/or fostering. Because as painful and hard and infuriating and sad and broken as the foster care system is, our daughters are our most precious blessings. Alex and I would do it all again with eyes wide open to add Lulu and Flavia to our family- and plan to do it again a few years down the road, once our girls are settled into their identity as permanent, forever daughters.
Yesterday we had another trial date, so let’s get you up to speed with a timeline of the TPR trial thus far. I’ll have lots to add here (including some about educating your youngsters at home, since education is my background and passion) in the coming weeks and months, but if you have specific questions about the process, our story or anything you’d like to hear my take on, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Spoiler alert- I probably won’t have an answer, but can help find resources. Also, I’m totally not a ‘law person’, so give me some grace with all the lingo.
January 2014- The girls’ foster agency attorney files the petition to terminate parental rights.
March 12, 2015- Trial begins. 1 hour 30 minutes in court.
March 16, 2015- Trial continues. Starts late, so have 1 hour 10 minutes.
May 22, 2015- Trial scheduled for all day. Alex and I find out two days before that the judge became scheduled for intake and we lost this date. Otherwise, the trial would have ended on this day.
June 9, 2015- Trial continues. After starting late, 1 hour 30 minutes in court.
August 5, 2015- Trial adjourns after 5 minutes because an attorney doesn’t show up.
September 15, 2015- Trial continues 15 minutes late. 10 minutes spent hunting down two of the attorneys. 5 minutes spent reprimanding the tardy attorneys. 30 minutes are spent on the trial.
We have two more trial dates next week, but were informed yesterday that it’s unlikely to end then. And, ironically, we ran out of time to actually schedule the additional dates needed to finish. So, we continue to wait.
Continue reading- The Trial, Part 2