Ok, so “players” usually refers to a game and this is real life for you. I get that! But, for these people, you and your children are just pawns in an elaborate game of Monopoly that involves real money. When we began our case, we did not know who was who or who to trust (stretching this term) and even more important, who to focus on. I mean, you have played Monopoly, right? The game is much easier won if you have loose allies. Someone to trade with during the game. In the end, you still try to take them out but you both got to play a bit longer because of this alliance. The problem is, if you choose the wrong person to “buddy” with, they may try to take you out of the game early. They may actually trade you the wrong piece of property by steering your attention elsewhere. Quite frankly, they might cheat!
With that said, I am going to give you a list of the people involved in our case (obviously with no names) and explain their role in us eventually getting Park Place and Boardwalk (aka the children home)
- The CPS Investigator: In our case, we had 2. The first one was in the state where the injury occurred and the second was in the state in which we lived. The first one met us at the hospital. Talked to the family and released the children to my daughter with paperwork to protect her and the children from the father until we returned home. We thought this was over at that point. However, Investigator A transferred the case to Investigator B because of the interstate jurisdiction laws. Investigator B met with my daughter and mother once they returned home (I stayed behind one extra day due to previous plans and the belief that everything was settled). Investigator B had my daughter sign a “protection plan.” She assumed this was a protective order and never filed a DVP (this later caused major issues). Make no assumptions and do not trust any paperwork from the investigator. (Side note: unlike many cases, we did not encounter any falsification from the investigator in the final court but I hear that this occurs often. So, be cordial and polite but hold your trust on this one.)
- District Attorney or ADA: I did not even know that the DA would be involved in family court but they represent the state so there they were. We never spoke to the ADA in our case. She never met the children. She never entered our home. She had no history other than the case files. She had one motive which was to “win” a case. I do not know if it is possible to gain access to this player. She is kinda like the banker who does not see the property but only the winnings. These cases are not the primary function of the ADA and therefore they appear to be very robotic. Be personable when directing responses in court. It will show the difference between the “law” and the human factor in the eyes of the judge.
- Court Appointed Attorneys: In our case, there were three to begin with to include my daughter’s, mine, and the father’s attorneys. To begin with, it was clear that these cases are just kinda their passage to other cases meaning, they did not choose these cases because of a true belief that they can or should win. My daughter opted to pay an attorney outside of the county simply to break up the “good ole boy’s club.” However, even this paid lawyer was not essential to our case. The lawyers chose to practice law but they did not choose to take on so many appointments because CPS overloads them. They are overloaded! Do your part. Show them how serious you are. Do some of the research. Let them know you are a team. Trade some property and form the alliance. This may not be easy and I know a lot of people will tell you that this is pointless. But, I am telling you from experience, your lawyer does not have the time to allocate to win your case but they still want to win. Help them to win!
- Ongoing Social Worker: When our case was transferred from the investigator to the ongoing worker, we believed that this was a step forward. However, this is a typical process and does not mean you are out of the woods. It means that the state believes that they have collected enough evidence to keep your children. The role of the ongoing worker is to establish the services and help to facilitate reunification. We NEVER spoke to this worker outside of the courthouse or MDT meetings! NEVER! She spoke to the foster parents a few times and saw the children. She communicated with the provider for supervised visitations. But she never spoke to us. And we tried! She formed a good relationship with the foster parents and we were sure that she was pushing for them to keep the children. However, she did not speak during the hearing. She did not testify. She was present but did not speak for or against us. She was just there. I guess, throughout the entire case, she was just there. I believe, if you are placed on an improvement plan, the ongoing worker should be one of your closest allies. You should do everything in your power to befriend them. However, in our case, there was no services required other than visitation until dismissal so this was not necessary. I know many people have a lot of negative things to say about their ongoing worker but we really did not encounter ours often enough to speak either way. I am only including this on the list as a way to let new families know about the different parties that will be involved.
- The GAL: This individual is essential to your case. The GAL is responsible for representing the “best interest” of your children. In his eyes, you must be the “best interest.” I do not care if you live by the belief that you have nothing to prove to anyone because you are an amazing parent (this is probably true) but to the GAL you have EVERYTHING to prove! We see so many cases of abuse in foster care but, unfortunately, we also see cases of abuse by bio families once the children have been returned home. The GAL is aware of this possibility and will err on the side of caution to protect themselves and the children. I understand that this may be an unwelcomed assertion at this point, but it is the absolute truth. If the GAL thinks that there is the slightest possibility that the children will be harmed if they recommend that the children be returned home, then they will not make this recommendation! With that said, the judge almost always goes along with the recommendations of the GAL so, put on your best mommy/daddy face. Be polite. Be sincere. Don’t trade property just give it to this one! Invite them to visits. Encourage them to know you and your children. Even if they do not come, make them feel welcome. Talk to them. Every chance you get. Show them how important your children are to you. But, I will say this because of other people’s reports, be careful. This is an ally NOT a friend! If you are depressed, anxious, having mental health issues etc. this is not the person to tell. Do not give them any information that would make them question your ability to parent!
- Supervised visitation providers: Okay, so I have spoken about our excellent relationship with ours but this is not the experience of all people. If you go to your visits and feel as if you are being judged….. YOU ARE! This is their JOB! They will write down everything! If you raise your voice, if you are on your phone, if you appear tired, sick, or bored…IT WILL BE IN YOUR FILE!!! Do not believe that, because they are in their laptop or phone, that they are not watching. They are emailing, taking notes, and, yes, JUDGING! With this said, these are the only people who you will have constant contact with. These are the ones who will really know you. These are the people who are traveling with your children and trying to calm them if they are upset at the end. These are your best chance at a true ally in your case. If they make a recommendation, FOLLOW IT! If they show a concern, ADDRESS IT! Let them know that all you want to do is be the best parent you can be for your children! Do not be scared or distant but do be cautious. Do not tell them personal information that could be used to make you look bad. Even if not intended negatively, they are required to put this in your file. Be cordial, respectful, and kind. Be diligent in your parenting and genuine in expressing your concerns.
- The Foster Parents: There are many different settings that your children may be placed in. Most of the time, they will be placed with foster parents. The foster parents are rarely involved with the actual court case. They do not generally testify or appear in court. However, they do speak to the GAL, investigator, and ongoing workers. They do have your children for holidays, birthdays, doctors, milestones, bedtimes, bathtimes….you know….they have your children. So, as far as the court case is concerned, they do not play a crucial role but as far as your ability to maintain a relationship with your children through the case, they can make or break these options. You are jealous. You are angry. You are hurt. I get that. Trust me. We lost one of every single holiday. But, being mean will get you nowhere! I have had many negative comments because of a previous blog showing compassion for the foster parents but understand that everyone is being lied to and yes, they may have what you deserve but they did not actually take them from you. If possible, have a working relationship with the foster parents. This will show your true concern for the children’s best interest. Eventually, you will have your children home and they will no longer be a concern so do not mistake this relationship as a friendship. But, for now, do what you have to do to spend every possible moment with your children.
- The Judge: This is the key player. This is the little guy with the funny eyeglasses that owns the game of monopoly. This is not the banker. This is the BANK! Regardless of the recommendations, the statements, the reports, the witnesses, the truth, the judge makes the decision that determines whether or not you maintain the right to parent YOUR children! Do not disrespect the judge! Do not appear disrespectful to the judge! This is the one moment in your life that you are being judged and this is the person doing the judging. The judge is scary (I literally was shaking) but he or she is a person. They may look as if they are just a part of the courtroom but know that they have a family and a life outside of that room. Talk to them like a person. Show them who you are as a parent. But remember, they have read what everyone else has written. You have to prove the reports are wrong. You have EVERYTHING to prove!
Okay, so now that you know the key players and how they can affect your case, do not stop researching. Learn everything you can about each person. I remember one time we had a visit with a doctor during the case and he was discussing his credentials. I said “you also like cats.” The look on his face was priceless when I told him I had checked his facebook to see if there were any negative reviews. He said he had never had anyone research him before and my answer was simple, “if you are going to be involved in the care of my grandson, then I am going to make sure that I can trust you.”
Be diligent in your case. These are YOUR children!
We did not choose to play the game but we can choose to win it!