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Thursday, June 10, 2010
Our Very Long Journey Home
I am the adoptive mother to two girls who were adopted out of the therapeutic foster care system. While I write frequently about the highs and lows of being a trauma mama, I think it is equally important to know how we got here. My girls case is the epitome of a failing system.
I know this is long and difficult to read, but I beg of you to please pass it on. Their story must be told so that other children, other families, do not have to go through this most awful journey. While I am, in many ways, broken beyond repair; it is my desire that no one else reach this point of helplessness. In knowledge there is hope for a better tomorrow.
I doubt if people knew things like this were allowed to happen that they would allow it to continue. Many times people are afraid to talk about this sort of thing, some are even embarrassed and that, to me, is a tragedy far worse than what happened. Silence allows the atrocities that broke my girls to continue...we will not be silent.
From the Beginning
In Nov. 1998, at four months old, one of my girls was given to her father. When her sister was born in August of 1999, she was also sent to live with him. It is important to note that at the same time she was sending the babies to live with their father, the birth mother had a restraining order against him.
In May 2001 the father broke the order of protection after he choked her and beat her head into the door. The children remained in his home.
The following includes quotes that were taken from the termination of parental rights hearing:
In December of 2001 the family was threatened with eviction due to the filth in the home. Upon being inspected by DCS, it was found
"smoke was so thick in the residence that it was hard to breathe. I could see smoke in the house. There was a large ashtray on the end table full and running over onto the coffee, onto the table. There were two highchairs in the kitchen and the highchair trays and the highchairs were caked with dried, molded. dirty food that did not appear to be fresh food and was caked on at least half an inch thick.” This is where my babies ate . . .
“The floor was dirty, covered in old food, trash, animal feces, and roaches.” This is where my babies played. . .
“The baby bed in the babies’ room was falling apart and tied together with string. The plastic covering over the baby mattress was torn and only about half of the covering was still on the mattress. There were pieces of foam torn loose from inside the mattress and it was all about the baby bed, all about the floor." This is where my babies slept. . .
Upon returning several days later to see what had been done to remedy the situation, nothing was found.
“The children still had on the same clothing they did days before. Their hair was matted. Their faces and skin were dirty; they had on dirty diapers and smelled of urine. There were live crawling lice running rampant in their hair.” This is what my babies looked like. . .
“The bathtub was black from never ever being cleaned out.” This is where my babies bathed. . .
“One month later when they returned conditions were worse, the same food found a month ago was still caked on the highchair.”
Family services were put into place but the father refused to cooperate and never did clean the home or the children. They were repeatedly sent home with head lice from their head start program.
How is it legally ok to walk away from this scene and leave two small children?
In August of 2002 police again became involved after my kiddos were found on a major highway unattended. The children were unable to speak and tell the officers who they were; or maybe they just wanted to forget. After some time, they were identified, and returned. Another warning was made by DCS.
In October 17 of 2002 a case manager came to the home. The father did not answer the door.
“From the window two small girls could be seen bungee corded in a room together, they both appeared to be trying to get loose and open the door.” The police were called and the children were removed.
On Oct. 23, 2002, the Sullivan County Juvenile court returned the children to the father, ignoring DCS’s concerns for their safety.
On October 31, 2002, DCS again removed the children after they had been sent home multiple times from head start for head lice. Their father chopping off their hair, in no particular fashion, was his only attempt to help them. At this time it was also discovered that the smallest of the children had hickies on their inner thighs and stomach.
On Nov. 2002 a permanency plan was devised for both parents.
Six months later, May 9, 2003, this plan had not been followed and DCS filed for termination of parental rights. Between this day and Feb. 28, 2005 there were over 30 court hearings, many of which continuances due to the father's attorney not having what he was supposed to. One of the most ridiculous continuances was allowed due to the father being in jail for attempted murder and his attorney arguing that “he could not adequately defend himself from jail.”
In September 2003 the father was again charged with violating an order of protection and sent to jail until May of 2004. It must be noted here that up until he was placed in jail he had weekly visitation with the children at a local McDonald’s, supervised by the Department of Children’s Services.
On Nov. 7, 2003 the children moved into my home after a stay with another foster family. This family wanted one of the children but not the other due to behavioral issues. My girls were tiny and still did not speak much. One of the girls, at five years old, weighed 22lbs; the other, at 4 years old weighed 23.
We began therapy at the children's advocacy center at this time as well.
It was weeks before the children would even let me touch them and months before I held them in my arms. It started with painted fingernails. First, I could paint their nails, then, I could massage their hands, and "see if you sit a little closer I can paint your toes too.”
On March 2004 the judge ended the trial and said that he wanted all the attorneys to resubmit briefs within thirty days and that within thirty days of that he would make a decision regarding the termination of parental rights.
In June of 2004 the father was again jailed for stabbing the mother after breaking into her home. He stayed in jail until Nov. 2004.
The children’s issues were complex and sadly common for those who have experienced childhood trauma. We worked desperately to find them the care that they needed. It was and continues to be a seemingly impossible process as the mental health system is just as bad as the judicial system.
In June 2004 we were referred to another therapist after the girls were officially diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. This diagnosis necessitated a more intensive type of therapy. A couple of months later we began seeing the new therapist and a psychiatrist with our local mental health agency.
In July 2004 I wrote a letter to the court begging his honor to please uphold his original commitment to make a decision after the briefs were turned in in March 2004.
On a Friday in August 2004, the judge sent out a letter to all attorneys stating that if they did not have their briefs turned in within ten days he would not consider them and would make a decision as to termination of parental rights.
The following Monday the judge collapsed dead in the courtroom. No, I’m not kidding! He was taken to the hospital and pronounced brain dead. His wife refused to accept this and had him transferred to a Nashville hospital where he awoke many months later and began recovery. The other local judges refused to touch the case if there was a chance of the previous judge’s return, so we waited on a miracle.
In Oct. of 2005, the judge returned to work made decisions from home because he was too sick to come into work.
On Nov. 28 of 2005 Termination was granted, again from the Judge's home.
On Dec. 28, 2005, the very last day for an appeal to happen, the father's attorney, without ever talking to him, filed an appeal. Even further detrimental was the fact that the Sullivan County Court did not acknowledge the appeal and let us proceed with the adoption.
January 2, 2006, I am told it is finally over, no one had been made aware of the Dec. 28 appeal before giving me the "good news." We celebrate and send out and up praises to God.
January 15, 2006, I am told, "oops, they didn't realize that the dad's attorney had appealed." I am also told that our pending adoption, and the guardianship order, previously granted were cancelled.
At this point, we did not know what to do. We had already told the kids they were ours forever. We had already given them their new names. They were so excited. We finally decided to proceed as if they were actually adopted and hope that nothing else went wrong.
March 6, 2006, the appeal information was submitted to the Appeals Court of Knoxville by the Department of Children’s Services. I am told that this process is supposed to take about six months
September 5, 2006, the father's attorney finally chooses to turn in his briefs. Six months were allowed to pass, despite the fact that he was supposed to have this done within thirty days of filing the appeal. He also did not do this until the court reprimanded him.
September 27, 2006 the children finally begin therapy to address their extreme abuse, neglect, and loss issues.
Several months later, after multiple setbacks, we reached our breaking point. As I prayed and fussed with God about this whole situation, I asked, or demanded, or whatever you call it, with Him about whether or not we were doing what we were supposed to do. As many of you know this whole process was incredibly painful and at times completely overwhelming.
I said to Him, "I'm tired of fighting the system, if we are supposed to do this, or even if we are not supposed to do this, I want the girls’ case to come to a conclusion this year."
At 8 am the very next morning, Friday March 2, 2007, DCS received news that we had finally gained termination of their parent’s rights; 3 years and over 30 court hearings later...
We had to wait an additional thirty days to see if the father or his attorney chose to appeal to the Supreme Court.
On April 2, 2007 the children were finally made free for adoption.
On June 20, 2007, in a hearing that lasted less than 15 minutes, surrounded by a small handful of friends and family, our four-year fight ended. No glory, no fireworks, just a little old man signing some paperwork. It just seemed to be such a mundane ending to something we all have worked so hard for. Strangely quiet and unremarkable for something that has changed my life so drastically.
My children have suffered more than most will ever have nightmares about. I know they are troubled. I know they may never get better, but they are my babies. I love them. I will love them even if that is all I am ever able to do.
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